DAVID BARNES @ The DAM Health Stadium
IN front of a record crowd of 6,165 at the DAM Health Stadium, Edinburgh turned on the style to inflict a wince-inducing defeat over a hapless Brive side who may well argue that their relegation battle back in France is a bigger priority but who cannot have drawn any sort of confidence from this 10 tries to nil demolition.
Edinburgh are now standing right on the threshold of qualification to the last 16 of the Challenge Cup and that could be assured by the end of the weekend if results elsewhere go their way. Otherwise, they will have to wait until the final round of pool matches on the weekend of 8th-11th April, when they will have to avoid a complete capitulation at home to Pau in order to progress in the tournament.
It is a results business, so the bonus point win was the most important thing, but head coach Mike Blair was also delighted with how several fringe players performed – creating the sort of selection headache for next weekend’s visit to Ospreys in the United Rugby Championship that he will savour.
Fast Freddie Owsley – a Scottish-qualified former British under-20s sprint champion who joined the club from the Bristol Bears academy in the summer – made his debut on the wing and grabbed the headlines with two tries, including a breathtaking length-of-the-park kick-chase effort, but he wasn’t alone in showing up well.
“Freddie has worked really hard on his game, especially it the last three or four weeks, so I wanted to reward that and his try was absolutely brilliant,” said Blair. “It was great to see him getting a bit of space, but other guys showed up as well like Angus Williams getting a start [at tight-head prop], and Harrison Courtney [hooker] and Ben Muncaster [back-row] brought energy off the bench.
“So, it was good to get a win with a score-line like that, but also to give these guys game-time as well.”
Brive were first out of the blocks with a third minute Thomas Laranjeira penalty but their lead lasted only two minutes, and Edinburgh weren’t content with just cancelling the deficit out when a ruck offence by the visiting pack offered the chance of three easy points from almost directly in front of the posts. They opted for the tap instead and the decision paid off when Glen Young rumbled over from close range two phases later.
It was a fine way for the second-row to mark his second appearance and first start for the capital club after his summer move from Harlequins. Young missed the first four months of the season with a pectoral injury. Emiliano Boffelli added the conversion.
Laranjeira could – and probably should – have put the visitors back in front, but was off target with two penalty attempts, but Edinburgh also passed up a scoring opportunity when they once again opted to run a kickable penalty but ended up being penalised themselves for holding on at the next ruck.
It got even better for Young on 25 minutes when he charged down Brive scrum-half Enzo Sanga’s box-kick on halfway and thundered all the way to the try-line, then Edinburgh helped themselves to try number three just four minutes later with another demonstration of their all-court game featuring Pierre Schoeman and Blair Kinghorn combining to send Charlie Shiel clear, before a quick recycle under the posts allowed Mesu Kunavula to send Jamie Ritchie over.
And the bonus-point was on the bag on 33 minutes when another sweeping attack was finished with typical fizz by Darcy Graham.
Owsley got in on the act just before half-time, showcasing that pace when Edinburgh turned the ball over near their own line and Mark Bennett cleared into space on the left near the half way line. The flying winger chased the kick down and whizzed past Brive players like they were caught in quicksand as he hacked forward twice before flopping on the ball as it bounced over the try-line, setting up an easy conversion for Boffelli.
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Owsley struck again just two minutes into the second half, coming off his wing to take a neat pop-pass out of contact from Kunavula and streaking home on a diagonal run from 25 yards.
It wasn’t quite one-way traffic with Brive managing to get over the line on a peel round the front of a line-out, but the ball was spilled in contact and the chance evaporated.
Edinburgh lost Stuart McInally to an HIA soon after his arrival on the park as a half-time replacement for Dave Cherry, but Blair dispelled concerns that this could impact the hooker’s Six Nations prospects afterwards. “He took a bang when he went for a jackal. He’s okay. We didn’t want to risk him. He’s got a big couple of months coming up,” said the coach.
Muncaster announced his arrival on the pitch as a 49th minute substitute forRitchie by muscling over on the left a few minutes later, with Boffelli nailing the touchline conversion. The Argentinean missed only one shot at goal from seven attempts, and his successes included a couple curled in from the touchline, which was a fair achievement given the treacherous wind.
There was a mid-second half lull – as often happens in one-side matches – and it wasn’t until 66th minute that Edinburgh struck again, with centre Cammy Hutchison making the initial dent off a line-out thrown over the top, and Hamish Watson finishing off on the left to bring up the half century.
Bennett then Henry Pyrgos helped themselves rounded off the scoring during the final 10 minutes, with replacement stand-off Charlie Savala slotting both conversions.
Edinburgh: E Boffelli (H Immelman 63); D Graham, M Bennett, C Hutchison, F Owsley; B Kinghorn ( C Savala 58), C Shiel (H Pyrgos 58); P Schoeman (H Courtney 49), D Cherry (S McInally 41-47), A Williams (W Nel 49), G Young (M Sykes 41), G Gilchrist, J Ritchie (B Mancaster 49), H Ritchie, M Kunavula.
Brive: T Laranjeira; A Muller, G Galletier, S Galala (T Lacoste 32), P Tournebidze; T Abzhandadze, E Sanga; H Thompson-Stringer (C Thomas 48), V Karkadze (T Acquier 48), P Ceccarelli (S Bekoshvili 20-32, 54), V Lebas, A Zafra, S Cerqueira (T Ratuva 57-67), O Giorgadze, S Fa’aso’o.
Referee: C Maxwell-Keys.
Edinburgh: Tries: Young 2, Ritchie, Graham, Owsley 2, Muncaster, Watson, Bennett; Cons: Boffelli 6, Savala 2.
Brive: Con: Laranjeira.
Scoring sequence (Brive first): 0-3; 5-3; 7-3; 12-3; 14-3; 19-3; 21-3; 26-3; 31-3; 33-3 (h-t) 38-3; 40-3; 45-3; 47-3; 52-3; 57-3; 59-3; 64-3; 66-3.