At the DAM Health Stadium
A DRAW or even a loss with two bonus points was all Edinburgh needed to go to the top of the United Rugby Championship table, but instead they reached the summit in some style as four first-half tries put the game beyond Cardiff. The second half was a tamer affair, but Mike Blair’s team still played some superb running rugby to make it six wins in eight starts in the league and go four points clear of Leinster, who are not in action this weekend.
Still, as he had done after announcing his team selection on Friday, Blair insisted that neither he nor his squad were paying much attention to the table at this stage in proceedings, pointing out that the second half of the fixture list looked appreciably tougher for Edinburgh than the first half. “It’s not something I’m massively focused on,” he said. “It’s not something we’ve really been talking about.
“The way that the fixtures have gone, the second half of the league is going to be tougher. We’re going to have more away games, and some games against some quality Irish opposition in particular, but also some quality Welsh opposition.
“We’re pleased with where we are, because getting points on the board early on is excellent, but we don’t want to get carried away. There was some great stuff out there, but there was a five-minute period where we’ve got some learning to do as well.”
Edinburgh had not played since their win over Saracens 28 days earlier, while Cardiff had been inactive for 21, but neither team showed any real signs of rustiness in a lively opening to the game. The Welsh team had the first sustained period of pressure, but a Magnus Bradbury turnover on the edge of their own 22 gave the home side a chance to counter-attack – and they took it with devastating effectiveness.
James Lang made the initial break in midfield then fed Ben Vellacott, and as the defence closed him down the scrum-half passed to Ramiro Moyano, who had a simple run to the line. Emiliano Boffelli converted.
Cardiff were soon back on the attack, but again coughed up possession and again were made to pay for it. Boffelli was the finisher this time, after Mark Bennett had done the hard yards.
The Pumas international missed the conversion, but soon made it 15-0 with a penalty. Yet despite that scoreline, it was by no means one-way traffic, and Cardiff eventually got off the mark when Rhys Priestland was on target with a penalty after Hamish Watson had offended.
Edinburgh remained in adventurous mood, however, and claimed their third try after half an hour when a one-two between Bennett and Moyano ended with the former touching down in the left corner just before making contact with the flag. They had been playing penalty advantage at the time from in front of the posts, but it was a sign of their complete confidence that they had no interest in taking the kick – and indeed had already turned down two previous chances to go for goal.
Boffelli converted from the touchline to make it 22-3, and that looked like being it for the first half until James Lang claimed the bonus-point try in the last play before the break. Blair Kinghorn and Jamie Ritchie did the approach work this time, and the forward’s short pass made it easy for Lang to finish off. The conversion was missed again, but at 27-3 the game looked to be completely in the bag.
Dave Cherry was on for Stuart McInally as play resumed. Moyano could have got his own second try and his team’s fifth in the opening minutes of the second half, but he held on to the ball instead of putting Vellacott in and the chance vanished.
Edinburgh had to defend for a time after that as Cardiff fought to get a foothold in the game, but a prolonged siege on the line ended with the defence, Pierre Schoeman to the fore, winning a penalty.
Lock Glen Young came on for his Edinburgh debut with half an hour to play, but by that time it was obvious that the sting had gone out of the game. A string of injuries to Cardiff players broke proceedings up further: the scrums had to be uncontested after replacement hooker Liam Belcher was forced off, and then No 8 James Botham needing on-field treatment for nearly ten minutes before being transported off in a buggy.
Within minutes of play resuming, the Welsh side got a try back, with winger Owen Lane hacking ahead twice then touching down after Kinghorn had fumbled. Jarrod Evans’ conversion took them into double figures.
Magnus Bradbury came close to hitting back immediately, only to lose the ball forward just before the line. Then Ritchie was also denied a score: he seized on a loose ball and touched down after Rey Lee-Lo had fumbled, but it was chalked off for a Bennett knock-on on the build-up.
At last, though, Bennett did get his team’s fifth try, cutting through a tired defence and going round between the posts to leave substitute Jaco van der Walt an easy conversion.
“I thought Mark Bennett was excellent,” Blair added with little fear of contradiction. “We’re heading in the right direction.”
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Moyano (5mins), Boffelli (9), Bennett (31, 75), Lang (39). Cons Boffelli 3. Pen: Boffelli (17).
Cardiff: Try: Lane (62). Con: J Evans. Pen: Priestland (26).
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0, 7-0, 12-0, 15-0, 15-3, 20-3, 22-3, 27-3 half-time, 27-8, 27-10, 32-10, 34-10.
Edinburgh: H Immelman; E Boffelli (J van der Walt 62mins), M Bennett, J Lang (C Dean 57), R Moyano; B Kinghorn, B Vellacott (C Shiel 75); P Schoeman (B Venter 56), S McInally (D Cherry 41), W Nel (L de Bruin 58), J Hodgson (G Young 50), G Gilchrist (capt), J Ritchie, H Watson (N Haining 61), M Bradbury.
Cardiff: M Morgan (A Summerhill 53); O Lane, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, J Harries; R Priestland (J Evans 50), L Williams (T Williams 50); R Carré, K Myhill (L Belcher 33, C Domachowski 56), D Arhip (W Davies-King 58), S Davies, R Thornton, J Turnbull (capt), W Boyde (E Jenkins 54), J Botham (J Ratti 57).
Referee: F Murphy (Ireland).