Cardiff Blues 6
DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
IT is not what you achieve when you are playing well but what you achieve when you are playing poorly which differentiates the real contenders from the also-rans over the course of a full league season. This helps explain why Richard Cockerill – a man who always wears his heart on his sleeve – was feeling so chipper after this turgid tussle on an icy cold night in the Scottish capital.
“It was as bad as we’ve played all season, but we’ll take the four points,” was the coach’s blunt assessment. “Cardiff were hard to break down, they defended our line-out and set-piece strikes really well, and they tested us a little bit by controlling the field position. We couldn’t really get a foothold in the game, but we found a way to win and that’s the key part.
“Both sets of coaches will be very disappointed in the performance, but the important stat is that we get the win and they get nothing, which is great [when you are up against a potential play-off rival]. We’ve got a lot of guys missing, we chose to rotate, and I think that was the right thing to do. We can have a bit of a break now and enjoy a bit of downtime.”
This victory means that Edinburgh are now seven points clear at the top of Conference B of the PRO14 with eight matches of the regular season left to play. That advantage will be reduced – one way or another – by 7pm tomorrow [Saturday] night depending on how second placed Munster fair at home to third placed Scarlets, but the key thing is that Cockerill’s team are still in the driving seat.
Having now won five games on the bounce in the PRO14 since the turn of the year, and all seven league games played at home this season, they have clearly established a self-serving belief that they are capable of turning any opposition over if they get things right, and not because of how slick they are but because of how bloody-minded they can be.
Cockerill’s boys now have three weeks off to ready themselves for a tilt at the best ever finish in the league – and, of course, for their Challenge Cup quarter-final clash against Bordeaux-Begles on 4th April as well.
Dragons had the better of the early exchanges and took a 10th minute lead through a long-range Jason Tovey penalty, but Edinburgh bounced back instantly when Hallam Amos caught the long restart then had his clearance charged down by George Taylor, who also gathered the loose ball and carried Lloyd Williams with him as he bustled over the line.
Simon Hickey hit the post with the conversion, and then repeated the trick – in almost identical fashion – with a penalty 15 minutes later, before finally nailing one from a slightly more central position to make it 8-3 with half an hour played. It could have been closer, but Tovey was also off target with his second penalty opportunity, awarded against Edinburgh on 20 minutes for not closing the gap.
Cardiff edged it back to a two-point game on the stroke half-time, when Nick Haining ripped the ball back onto Edinburgh’s side at a ruck directly in front of his own posts and referee George Clancy judged that he was off his feet, with Tovey making no mistake this time off the tee.
It continued to be a cat-and-mouse type of contest. Edinburgh did have a few promising moves over the course of the night – James Johnstone hitting an excellent line off the back of a line-out to burst out of his own half midway through the first half, and Hickey picking out Duhan van der Merwe with an inch-perfect cross-kick to the left touchline after ten minutes of the second half – but neither team really looked like clicking as an attacking force.
Heading into the final quarter, and with the home bench bringing valuable energy – including Pierre Schoeman, who was named man-of-the-match for his 35 minute cameo – Edinburgh slowly but surely took a chokehold of the match.
Hickey was off target with a long-range penalty, he then almost released Eroni Sau with another cross-field kick but the Fijian flyer couldn’t quite gather, and was involved again in the lead up to a rampaging run from van der Merwe only for the big South African to be bundled into touch just short of the line, before.
Eventually, Edinburgh got their reward when Hickey slotted his second penalty of the night with just over five minutes to go, and the win was finally nailed down a few minutes later when the hosts won turnover ball 10 yards from their own line, and two adrenaline-charged kick-chases harried Cardiff into conceding a ruck penalty 30-yards out, which Hickey had no problem sending home for three more points.
Edinburgh: D Hoyland (J van der Walt, 60); E Sau, J Johnstone, G Taylor (C Dean 19), D van der Merwe; S Hickey, C Shiel (H Pyrgos 54); J Bhatti (P Schoeman 45), M Willemse, S Berghan (P Ceccarelli 50), L Carmichael (S Thomson 22-32, 59), G Gilchrist, N Haining, L Crosbie, V Mata (J Barclay 59).
Cardiff Blues: H Amos; J Harries, G Smith, B Thomas, A Summerhill; J Tovey (D Fish 48), L Williams; B Thyer (C Domachowski 54), K Dacey (K Myhill 54), D Arhip (K Assiratti, 60), S Davies (B Murphy, 66), R Thornton, S Lewis-Hughes, O Robinson, J Turnbull (N Williams 66).
Referee: George Clancy
Edinburgh: Try: Taylor; Pen: Hickey 3.
Cardiff Blues: Pen; Tovey 2.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-3; 5-3; 8-3, 8-6 (h-t) 11-6; 14-6.