STUART BATHGATE @ Murrayfield
A FIRST-HALF flurry of tries from Darcy Graham set Edinburgh up for an ultimately convincing victory which has booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup. Their opponents in the one-off tie in early April will be Bordeaux, the club who finished above them in Pool Three.
Graham added a try in the second half to the hat-trick he scored before the break, while Duhan van der Merwe also touched down against an Agen side who fought gamely enough at first but ran out of steam and desire some time before the end. Jaco van der Walt chipped in with two conversions and a penalty, while his replacement, Simon Hickey, added two conversions.
It was a comfortable enough win in the end, although Richard Cockerill would have preferred an easier draw than a return to Bordeaux, the club who drew at Murrayfield in November and beat Edinburgh 32-17 at home earlier this month. “We’ve played Bordeaux twice: we’ve drawn here and lost away,” the head coach said. “Bordeaux are a very good side. We know how good we’re going to have to be and how good they are.”
In the end, it was a minor superiority in points differential that saw Bristol finish above Bordeaux in the seedings, in second as opposed to third place, below top seeds Toulon, who beat Bayonne last night. Edinburgh finished sixth as the best of the three runners-up from the five pools, ahead of Dragons and Scarlets.
Here we go Agen
Agen had fallen out of the running some time before this game, but they competed well for much of the first half before succumbing to that try blitz from Graham. It was Van der Walt, however, who opened the scoring with a third-minute penalty after a long and patient drive by the home team. Then, after a long spell in which neither attack was able really to threaten the line, Raphael Lagarde had a chance to equalise but pulled his penalty wide.
That miss left the score at 3-0 at the end of a first quarter in which Edinburgh had things far from all their own way. Eventually, though, Agen succumbed to a smart break initiated by George Taylor. When the centre was stopped he fed Hamish Watson, and the openside swiftly passed on to Graham, who finished off from a few metres out, with Van der Walt converting.
The double-figure cushion removed some of the tentativeness that Cockerill’s team had been displaying, and Watson and Duhan van der Merwe soon embarked on rampaging runs as they sought to ram home their advantage. Nothing came of either, but the extra verve shown in attack was a positive sign, and bore fruit as half-time approached.
Little looked to be on when Grant Gilchrist was felled in midfield, but a quick passing move to the right brought Graham back into play. With Damien Hoyland outside him as a decoy, the winger cut inside then back out again to touch down close to the corner for an unconverted try.
A penalty award after the 40-minute mark saw Van der Walt kick to the corner, and when the ball came back down the line a looping pass gave Graham just enough space in which to squeeze over and complete his hat-trick. The successful conversion made it 22-0 at the break, by which point the only real question to be answered was how long it would take Edinburgh to secure the bonus point.
Premiership Match Reports:
After a lacklustre dozen minutes or so following the restart, the first significant act of the second 40 saw Agen make five substitutions at once, including a new front-row trio. Edinburgh then went to their bench too, but the multiple changes did not immediately inject any new energy into a game which had taken on the semblance of a training match.
Yet even if the win and the accompanying place in the last eight were secure, Edinburgh still wanted that fourth try which would improve their seeding. Graham, for one, was cognisant of that fact, and with 67 minutes on the clock he burst through an increasingly woebegone defence from 30 metres out to score close to the posts. Simon Hickey, on for Van der Walt, added the two points.
Edinburgh continued to press as the game wore on, and with four minutes to go Duhan van der Merwe ended Graham’s monopoly of the try-scoring with a simple touchdown from a Hickey pass following a scrum. Hickey converted again, then right on time laid on a high kick to the corner which the left-winger just failed to gather. Nonetheless, it was a case of job done for Edinburgh, who now have a welcome break for a couple of weeks before returning to PRO14 duties.
Edinburgh: D Hoyland; D Graham, M Bennett, G Taylor, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, N Groom; P Schoeman, D Cherry, W Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, L Crosbie, H Watson, N Haining. Substitutes: M Willemse, R Sutherland, P Ceccarelli, F McKenzie, J Barclay, H Pyrgos, S Hickey, C Dean.
Agen: L Berdeu; J Taulagi, J Sadie, N Decron, B Masilevu; R Lagarde, P Abadie; G Tetrashvili, C Martinez, W Desmaison, P Phillips, A Motoc, R Briatte (captain), J Jegerlhener, D Hayes. Substitutes: P Ngauamo, F Correa, C Chabeaudie, A Tarazona, G Maravat, H Verdu, S Vaka, J Jane.
Referee: C Maxwell-Keys (England).
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Graham 4, Van der Merwe. Cons: Van der Walt 2, Hickey 2. Pen: Van der Walt.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 3-0, 8-0, 10-0, 15-0, 20-0, 22-0 half-time, 27-0, 29-0, 34-0, 36-0.
CHALLENGE CUP quarter-final draw
Toulon v Scarlets
Bristol v Dragons
Bordeaux v Edinburgh
Leicester v Castres
Matches to be played weekend of 3-5 April.