Edinburgh v Cardiff: Blues fightback inflicts damaging defeat

Home team let 17-0 lead slip to end up with only a losing bonus point

Nathan Fowles on the attack for Edinburgh against Cardiff. Image: ©INPHO/Craig Watson.

Edinburgh 17

Cardiff Blues 19


EDINBURGH’s hopes of claiming a play-off place in PRO14 Conference B were dealt a damaging blow last night as they surrendered a 17-0 lead to Cardiff Blues. With Ulster and Benetton both recording big wins, Richard Cockerill’s side are now down to fourth in the table with five rounds of the regular season to play, and the losing bonus point came as little or no consolation after they had been on top for so much of the match.

Jason Harries proved more than a handful on his return to Murrayfield, scoring two of the Blues’ tries in their second-half fightback. Injuries did not help Edinburgh’s attempt to stay on top then get back on terms, with Dougie Fife missing the second half with a head knock and Duhan van der Merwe being taken off with a cut, and, while disappointed, Cockerill was fairly calm in his assessment of what had gone wrong.

“Disappointing, isn’t it?,” he said. “We had a good start, a 14-point lead at half time and then you lose the second half 19-3. So, if you don’t take your opportunities, and we had opportunities in that second half to score, especially when we kicked the three points to go 17-0 up. You get what you deserve in the end.

“It was disappointing, because we had opportunities to win the game, but we weren’t composed enough, we made too many errors and ultimately we got what we deserved.

“We were just a bit lacklustre at times. And if you just sit back on your heels and don’t defend then you let sides come at you and – especially with that back-line Cardiff have got – you get punished.”

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Edinburgh welcomed Damien Hoyland back to their starting line-up after almost exactly a year out with injury, while substitute Mark Bennett was in the squad for the first time since sustaining hamstring damage five months ago. The return of those two internationals, however, was more than counter-balanced by the absence of nine first-choice players on Scotland duty and several more on the injury list. The Blues had three Test absentees to contend with, and also had to make a late change to their team, with Dan Fish coming in at full-back for Matthew Morgan.

After an even start to the match, it was Edinburgh who struck first. Hooker David Cherry sprinted into open prairie from a lineout around halfway, and scrum-half Nathan Fowles was up in support to claim the pop-up pass and run in the try, which Jaco van der Walt converted.

Encouraged by that early advantage, the home team continued to play an enterprising, high-tempo game. They had two chances to extend their lead with penalties, but opted to send both to touch and failed to score from the resultant attacks.

That did not deter them, however, and they soon doubled their lead. Fowles turned instigator this time, darting clear from the back of a ruck then slinging the scoring pass to Bill Mata. Van der Walt again converted.

Cardiff had shown nothing in attack up to that point, but midway through the first half they came close to opening their account only to cough up possession deep in the home 22.  They thought they were about to score again not long afterwards as Lloyd Williams broke free, but Mata recovered excellently to haul the scrum-half down metres from the line, before the Blues conceded a penalty in their eagerness to recycle quickly.

If Cardiff were to blame for that unforced error, their inability to score for the rest of the half was largely down to some superbly drilled defence by Edinburgh. Time and again they forced their opponents back behind the gain line, patiently probing until they forced a turnover or another offence was committed.

Both teams replaced their full-backs at half-time,  Harries coming on for Fish and Simon Hickey substituting for Fife – although it was Van der Walt who dropped back to 15 with Hickey taking over at stand-off. The home team kept Cardiff pinned back in their own half for the first 10 minutes and more of the second 40, thanks in no small part to Van der Walt’s precise kicking from hand. And, when the next scoring opportunity presented itself, it was the South African who took advantage, dinking over a penalty from in front of the posts.

Edinburgh appeared to lose attention for the first time in the match immediately after that score, and the Blues quickly took advantage. Flanker Olly Robinson broke and found Harries, whose pass put Liam Williams clear for a try which Jarrod Evans converted.

Encouraged by that opening of their account, Cardiff were soon back on the attack, and scored again just past the hour mark. A lineout on the left established the platform, an apparent misreading by the Edinburgh defence allowed an overlap on the right, and Harries was there to run it in.

The conversion attempt was unsuccessful, but the momentum was now firmly with Cardiff. They should have scored again a minute later from another rapid break, but were too rushed in their attempt to finish the move off and fumbled forward.

Bennett then came off the bench, replacing Duhan van der Merwe, as Edinburgh sought to re-establish control. But it was Cardiff who finished the stronger, with Harries scoring again in the left corner 10 minutes from time. Evans’ conversion put the Blues ahead for the first time, and they had little difficulty in staying in front against opponents who ended the match in dispirited and disjointed fashion.

Teams –

Edinburgh: D Fife; D Hoyland, J Johnstone, J Socino, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, N Fowles; P Schoeman, D Cherry, P Ceccarelli, F McKenzie, C Hunter-Hill, A Miller, L Crosbie, V Mata. Substitutes: R Ford, R Sutherland, M McCallum, J Hodgson, S Nayalo, C Shiel, S Hickey, M Bennett.

Cardiff Blues: D Fish; O Lane, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, A Summerhill; J Evans, L Williams; R Carré, L Belcher, D Arhip, G Earle, R Thornton, S Lewis-Hughes, O Robinson, N Williams (captain). Substitutes: E Lewis, C Domachowski, S Andrews, M Cook, A Lawrence, D Blacker, S Shingler, J Harries.

Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Fowles, Mata. Cons: Van der Walt 2. Pen: Van der Walt.

Cardiff: Tries: L Williams, Harries 2. Cons: Evans 2.

Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0, 7-0, 12-0, 14-0 half-time, 17-0, 17-5, 17-7, 17-12, 17-17, 17-19.

Referee: F Murphy (Ireland).

Attendance: 4,258.


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About Stuart Bathgate 1427 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.