Image courtesy of Craig Watson @CraigWatsonpix
WE are told that Edinburgh have improved over the past three seasons but it is hard to believe that this is really the case after a woeful second half performance in this crucial match saw them meekly surrender a 10 point half-time lead, and in the process drop to a miserable ninth place finish in the Pro 12 table.
Edinburgh’s defenders might point out that this year’s haul of 54 league points eclipses the 48 accumulated last season and the 38 in the campaign before that. They may also claim that the fact that their battle to make it into the top six (and therefore qualify for the Champions Cup) came down to the final round of matches shows that they are more competitive now than they were in previous campaigns. But there is no answer to the harsh reality of Edinburgh’s final league placing – after ending up in eighth place in each of the two previous years, they have now dropped to ninth. That is a small but hugely significant step in the wrong direction.
Alan Solomons’ voice trembled with rage as he fronted up to the media after this “unacceptable” capitulation.
“I am very, very disappointed with the way we played in that second half. It’s shocking – we were poor today and we paid a price. We should have won that game from 17-7. I know Jason [Tovey] was a bit unlucky with two kicks that hit the upright, which would have drawn the game, but that’s not the point. We were three tries to one up, we were clearly the better side, and all we’ve got to do is keep it up – but we play stupid rugby and the consequence is we have no territory and no possession,” he said.
“I thought we played well in the first half to get to 17-7 and where
“They may be experienced guys but the fact of the matter is they didn’t do it [play percentage rugby] despite the messages going on to the field.”
“You’ve got to look at it over the whole season. That was a very disappointing performance, as was the Munster performance. We’ve got to say to ourselves that it’s not good enough and I’ve told the players that. They are going on a break for four days, and then the ones who are returning next year will be back for a two week conditioning block – but it isn’t good enough.”
“We’ve got to look at everything and we’ll do a proper review now that our season is finished. Today’s game was unacceptable.”
The afternoon got off to an inauspicious start for Edinburgh when Ross Ford went down with a calf problem ten minutes before kick-off, prompting a frantic bout of reshuffling, with Stuart McInally moving into the starting team from the bench, and Neil Cochrane being called down from the stands to sit on the bench (while injured second-row Fraser McKenzie kept an eye on his the hooker’s young daughter).
Edinburgh needed a bonus point win and for other results to go their way if they were to make it into the top six and qualify for the Champions Cup next season, and despite this pre-match confusion they set about fulfilling their side of the bargain with admirable gusto in the first half, with Hamish Watson, Matt Scott and Tom Brown all dotting down before the break to give the home team a commanding lead.
The big question which nobody seemed capable of adequately answering after the match is how and why they lost their way so badly after the interval.
“Where it went wrong is when we got the ball between the two ten metre lines and played it through fifteen phases and got nowhere. After three or four phases [in that area of the pitch] it is simple, you’ve got to play territory, but we don’t do that, we turn the ball over and they get into our half and hold the ball,” was the best Solomons could manage.
“We had two other occasions, when we sent down a message but we do exactly the same thing between the two ten metre lines, so the consequence is we have no territory and no possession and we pay a price for that. We played the bulk of that half inside our 22 and you can’t win a game of rugby doing that.”
There is certainly validity in what the coach is saying, but at this stage in the season you can’t help but feel that there is something more fundamental working against the team. Good teams with high morale find ways of winning important games even when everything seems to be going against them – Edinburgh had nobody there who was ready or willing to grab the game by the scruff of the neck.
Any possession Edinburgh did manage to secure was almost immediately coughed up in contact. A fairly strong wind was working against them, but even taking that into account their line kicking was woeful. It had all the hallmarks of a meaningless end of season fixture which the players had to get through before heading off to sunnier climes on holiday – except it wasn’t.
Eventually the pressure turned into something more tangible when Cam Dolan charged over in the 62nd minute and Anscombe slotted the conversion to make it 17-14.
The only times Edinburgh managed to get out of their own half were from restarts, and there was a sense of inevitability about what happened next, when Dan Fish gobbled up a weak clearance from Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and set off on a sizzling run before eventually sending Garyn Smith over for the score which out the visitors ahead.
The biggest cheer from the home crowd during the second half was when a streaker invaded the pitch in the 74th minute, performed an excellent summersault, and took a selfie with Dougie Fife before being the security staff finally got to him.
There was a late moment of hope when Edinburgh won a penalty near their halfway line, and Jason Tovey sent an excellent kick into the corner. The line-out was collected cleanly and the perfect platform for the match winning score was established. But the ball was [once again] coughed up in contact and so a miserable afternoon for Edinburgh came to a fittingly miserable end.
Edinburgh: Tries: Watson, Scott, Brown; Con: Tovey.
Blues: Try: Lee-Lo, Dolan, Smith; Con: Anscombe 3.
Edinburgh: D Fife; D Hoyland, M Scott, A Strauss, T Brown; J Tovey, S Kennedy (S Hidalgo-Clyne 60); R Sutherland (A Dell 60), S McInally (Cochrane 60), W Nel (J Andress 55), A Bresler (A Toolis 55), B Toolis, N Manu, H Watson (M Bradbury 49), C Du Preez.
Blues: D Fish; A Summerhill, G Smith, R Lee-Lo, T James (J Evans 42); G Anscombe, L Williams; G Jenkins, M Rees, T Filise, C Dolan (M Cook 74), J Down (L Reed 72), J Turnbull, E Jenkins, J Navidi.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)