IN the circumstances, this will have felt like a minor triumph for Edinburgh, with an inexperienced team showing plenty of resilience and courage to win the second half 12-0, salvaging a losing bonus-point, which might not mean much in terms of final league seedings but will provide a major boost to morale.
The real significance of this match is that it means Glasgow finish fourth in Conference A of the PRO14 this season, meaning they have a chance of qualifying for next year’s Champions Cup (depending on whether top three or top four make the cut). Dragons needed a 45 point winning margin and four tries to leapfrog the Warriors, and it like looked that might be on the cards when they raced into a 14-0 lead inside the first 15 minutes, but they couldn’t kick-on from there.
Next up for Edinburgh is a trip to Paris next Sunday for their Champions Cup last 16 clash against Racing 92, who are likely to be without Finn Russell after the playmaker picked up a red-card during Scotland’s victory over France on Friday night. A disciplinary hearing will take place at some point this week.
Head coach Richard Cockerill will expect to have his international contingent back for that match, as well as No 8 Viliame Mata, who missed this game with a concussion.
“I told the guys that their endeavour and effort to get back into the game was brilliant,” said Cockerill afterwards.
“I never want to see losing as an outcome to be celebrated, but under the circumstances with all the injuries and after struggling in the first half, to be still in with a chance of a draw at the death is credit to the players, especially the young lads.
“It could have been horrible if the players had given up in the second half, but they doubled their efforts and played much better, and we won the second half.
“I’m sure Danny Wilson [Glasgow’s head coach] will be doing cartwheels now we’ve done them a favour. He would have been having another beer at half-time and shouting at his telly, telling me to sort it out.
“We were doing it for ourselves rather than them, but the tables don’t lie, and if they qualify for Europe now it’s because they deserve to.”
Two early tries from the abrasive Dragons second-row Matthew Screech, both converted by Sam Davies, set Dragons up nicely for the big win they were chasing, and it was one way traffic during that first quarter – but there was some belligerence from Edinburgh, with thumping tackle from Luke Crosbie on Ross Moriarty standing out.
Edinburgh second-row Jamie Hodgson saw yellow for deliberately getting in the way of Dragon scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou as he trotted back onside after a tackle, which allowed Davies stretched the lead to 17 points – but going a man down proved to have a galvanising effect on the visitors, who enjoyed their first real spell of possession inside the Dragons half, culminating in Mesulame Kunavula rumbling over from close range after Murray McCallum had driven into the heart of the home team’s defence with a quick tap-penalty.
Dragons claimed their third try when Sam Davies sent Jonah Holmes over after some patient build up play, but Edinburgh were hanging in there, and some nice offloading saw Mark Bennett racing clear on a diagonal run into Dragons’ 22. Edinburgh set up camp, working through a round a dozen phases before a flat pass from Blair Kinghorn – who had moved from full-back to take over at stand-off after Jaco van der Walt suffered a dead-leg – sent Eroni Sau scampering up the left touchline.
Unfortunately for Edinburgh, the Fijian flyer’s speculative pass inside flew straight to Dragons centre Aneurin Owen, and the ball was quickly transferred across the park to Ashton Hewitt, who appeared to brush off Jack Blain on his way to finishing off a length of the park score, but a referral to the TMO revealed that his heel had brushed the touchline, meaning the score was still 24-5 at the break.
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Edinburgh ran out of steam and conceded 31 points during the second half of last Monday’s defeat to Cardiff Blues, and a similar sort of collapse here would have given Dragons the margin of victory they were looking for, but a very different story unfolded instead.
A move towards a looser, less-structured game had the desired effect of disrupting their opponents flow and neutering their set-piece dominance.
There was an early indication of Edinburgh’s intent when Kinghorn drew two defenders on his own 22 before releasing Chris Dean on a promising attack up the middle of the park, although it came to nothing on this occasion because the centre overcooked his kick towards Sau on the left touchline and it went out on the full.
Fijian No8 Kunavula was leading the charge with ball in hand, but there was buy-in across the board, and it was a quick tap penalty from Carlie Shiel which brought Edinburgh their second try in the 65th minute, when the replacement scrum-half darted home from 25-yards, riding a tackle from Owen along the way.
Edinburgh rode the adrenalin rush of that opportunist score, and crossed the line again just a few minutes when Kinghorn sent Dean through another, and then looped round to collect the scoring pass, before adding the conversion to take Edinburgh to within seven points.
Edinburgh spent the final minutes camped on Dragons’ line, pushing hard for the seven points which would have secured an unlikely draw. A last gasp tackle by Williams on Sau prevented a score in the corner, and ultimately the away team ran out of ideas, but still deserve huge credit for making a game of it.
Dragons: J Williams; J Holmes (E Lloyd 66), A Owen, J Dixon (N Tompkins 68), A Hewitt; S Davies, G Bertranou (R Williams 56); B Harris (G Bateman 60), R Hibbard (E Dee 11), L Fairbrother (L Brown 55), J Davies (B Carter 49), M Screech, A Wainwright, H Keddie (B Fry 73), R Moriarty.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; J Blain, M Bennett (G Taylor 78), C Dean, E Sau; J van der Walt (M Currie 28), H Pyrgos (C Shiel 48); M McCallum (S Gunn 67), S Kitchen (P Harrison 57), L Atalifo (A Williams 57), M Sykes (A Ferreira 67), J Hodgson, M Bradbury (C Boyle 52), L Crosbie, M Kunavula.
Dragons: Try Screech 2, Holmes; Con: Davies 3; Pen: Davies
Edinburgh: Try: Kunavula, Shiel, Kinghorn; Con: Kinghorn;
Scoring sequence (Dragons first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 17-0; 17-5; 22-5 24-5 (h-t) 24-10; 24-15; 24-17
Yellow cards –
Edinburgh: Hodgson (17mins)