DAVID BARNES @ The DAM Health Stadium
AFTER a scrappy start, Edinburgh produced a performance full of purpose and vigour to run in eight tries, lifting themselves to third in the United Rugby Championship table behind Glasgow on points difference. They could drop back to fifth if the Warriors (against Scarlets away) and Munster (against Dragons at home) pick up wins tomorrow (Saturday) evening, but they are right back in the battle for a top four finish.
After three away defeats on the bounce, this was a big confidence boost for the capital men heading into their 1872 Cup clash against Warriors at Scotstoun a week on Friday.
There was impressive performances across the park. Full-back Henry Immelman was named man-of-the-match, Emiliano Boffelli scored eight from eight off the tee, including some beauties from the touchline, Blair Kinghorn was a real catalyst at stand-off, Ben Muncaster was a real physical presence at blindside flanker and the pack in general fronted-up, particularly at set-piece time.
“I didn’t know the exact numbers but Stevie [Lawrie – assistant coach] told me in the technical box that we were missing 14 internationals iun the pack, and I thought we dominated at scrum time,” said satisfied head coach Mike Blair afterwards. “I am delighted with Angus Williams [at tight-head prop] and Courtney Harrison [at loose-head] who have been phenomenal in training recently.
“Ben [Muncaster] is a real power athlete and he stepped up with his carrying today, his intent to make extra yards was really noticeable. It’s brilliant that he’s been able to get this run of games and we have b a few long term injuries in the back-row so there will be more opportunities for him.
“For someone who had had a difficult five, six week period away with Scotland, back with us, away with Scotland, Blair stood up really well and led the team really well.
“I find it strange that people challenge what Blair can do as 10, especially if they’ve watched Edinburgh this season because he’s got a real understanding of where space is and he communicates that. He’s got brilliant soft skills as we saw with his offload to Emiliano for the first try.
“I’m really confident in what we’re try to do with Blair and was really confident that he was going to play well on the night and he did.
“I thought Henry [Immelman] was outstanding. I remember at the start of the season I likened him to Gavin Hastings as he is that sort of big, powerful kind of man who is solid and reliable.
“We’re pleased with our ruthless edge,” he added. “We didn’t just get a few tries, win the game then rest up. We were a lot better converting pressure into points and hopefully the stats will say the same.”
Blair also revealed that Nick Haining is set to miss Scotland’s Six Nations clash against Italy next weekend. “It’s his shoulder, his AC joint,” he explained. “We’re not too sure the length on that but it’ll be weeks rather than months.”
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After a frantic start to this contest, Edinburgh lost No 8 Mess Kunavalu to the sin-bin after the Fijian international was wrong footed and stretched out and a desperate arm which caught Connacht scrum-half Caolin Oliver, and the visitors took quick advantage of their numerical advantage with a Jack Carty offside penalty from in front of the posts edging them into a 3-0 lead.
The hosts survived the rest of that period at a numerical disadvantage without conceding any more points, but it was scrappy stuff – which isn’t surprising given how many players were missing through either international commitments or injury. In total 18 front-line Edinburgh players were listed as unavailable for this game, although that includes only four backs.
It wasn’t a great shock when winger Peter O’Sullivan scrambled over on the left after a long period of pressure to stretch Connacht’s lead to eight points with 24 minutes played.
Then, it eventually it clicked for the home side just before the half hour mark, when Kinghorn sent a message to some of those doubting whether he’s got what it takes to be a top-class stand-off with an excellent dummy, jink then offload which sent Emiliano Boffelli scurrying unmarked up the left touchline to score, with the Argentinean winger nailing the tricky conversion for good measure.
Suddenly Edinburgh’s tails were up and they started to play with real purpose and accuracy, scoring again just four minutes later with Chris Dean the creator and Henry Immelman adding the finishing touches this time.
And try number three came with just two minutes of the first half to play when a powerful line-out drive rumbled over the line and hooker Dave Cherry marked his 50th appearance for the club by dotting down.
That made it 21-8 at the break, and the capital men came firing out the blocks straight from the restart with Kinghorn taking a central role yet again, sending Ben Muncaster through a yawning gap in the middle of the park with a fine flat pass and then collecting the return to canter under the posts unchallenged.
When another lovely piece of handling from Kinghorn sent Ramiro Moyano in for the home team’s fifth with just 52 minutes played, the rout was on, and it wasn’t long before Boffelli went over on the left for his second try of the night.
Edinburgh cleared their bench, but that didn’t disrupt their momentum, and Glen Young burrowed under the posts to keep the scoreboard ticking over, before Ben Vellacott finished off a Dean break to take Edinburgh past the half century. Boffelli added the conversion to make it eight from eight off the tee.
Edinburgh: H Immelman; R Moyano (J van der Walt 61), J Lang (M Currie 61), C Dean, E Boffelli ; B Kinghorn, H Pyrgos (B Vellacott 50); B Venter (H Courtney 63), D Cherry (A McBurney 61), A Williams (L Atalifo 61), P Phillips, G Young (J Campbell 69), B Muncaster, C Boyle, M Kunavula (R Brown 63).
Connacht: J Porch; P Sullivan, S Arnold, T Daly, A Wootton (T Farrell 47); J Carty, C Blade (K Marmion 69); J Duggan (T Tuimauga 50), D Heffernan (S Delahunt 50-69), J Aungier (D Robertson-McCoy 52), O Dowling, L Fifita (N Murray 52, C Oliver 65), C Prendergast, C Oliver, P Boyle (A Papali’I).
Referees: Craig Evans (WRU)
Edinburgh: Try: Boffelli 2, Immelman, Cherry, Kinghorn, Moyano, Young, Vellacott; Con: Boffelli 8.
Connacht: Try: Sullivan; Pen: Carty.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-3; 0-8; 5-8; 7-8; 12-8; 14-8; 19-8; 21-8 (h-t) 26-8; 28-8; 33-87; 35-8; 40-8; 42-8; 47-8; 49-8.
Yellow cards –
Edinburgh: Kunavula (7 mins)