DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
IT was pretty turgid stuff for a large section of the middle of this match, but Edinburgh got the job done with a comfortable (in the end) bonus point win, which lifts them to second place in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14, although Treviso could jump back ahead if they pick up a bonus point win at home to the Scarlets tomorrow (Saturday) evening.
Flanker Magnus Bradbury announced his return after four months out recovering from a shoulder injury with a man-of-the-match performance which featured a try, several powerful carries and a number of crunching tackles, indicating that stepping back into the Scotland squad next week would not be an unreasonable challenge to set the 23-year-old. He played the full 80-minutes, and looked increasingly in his element as the game wore on.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, who was in the crowd watching, will have been delighted to see at least one player coming back into contention to counter-balance the raft of back-rowers who have been ruled out of his team’s Six Nations campaign by injury in recent weeks.
Edinburgh grabbed an early lead when centre James Johnstone jinked through four tackles and stretched over the line with eight minutes played. That score came after a couple of powerful thrusts from Chris Dean and Darcy Graham which generated quick ball.
Dragons bounced back within three minutes, with Tyler Morgan nipping over on the left after some slick handling from the visitors.
Edinburgh replied in 15 minutes when a really sharp move off the back of a scrum in midfield sent Johnstone racing in for his – and his team’s – second try of the night, after valuable contributions from Henry Pyrgos, Jaco can der Walt and Graham.
But then Morgan got back in on the act when he picked out Dean’s loose pass and cantered home from 25 yards on the interception.
It had been an explosive opening quarter, but it kind of fizzled out after that. Josh Lewis added a penalty to go with his two earlier conversions, which edged the Dragons ahead, but the try-line was never really under threat again until half-time.
Edinburgh came close to recapturing the lead at the start of the second half when Graham chased his own chip ahead into the in-goal area, but the livewire winger – who was under pressure from Will Talbot-Davies – couldn’t quite get his hand to the ball before it bounced harmlessly out of play.
Lewis missed a long-range penalty to extend the Dragons lead in the 51stminute, with the game haven fallen back into a similar stupor as characterised the period before half-time.
There was a brief murmur of excitement when Dougie Fife and Jaco van der Walt made dents in the away team’s defence with the ball in hand, but in the end Edinburgh had to make do with a van der Walt offside penalty – which was his 20thconsecutive successful kick at goal this season.
Edinburgh had the upper hand in the scrum and it was from a set-piece that they broke the deadlock, with the ball kicked to the corner and comeback kid Bradbury rumbling over from close range after a series of punishing drives.
Finally, the game burst back into life, and Edinburgh snatched the bonus point in some style with 12 minutes to go, when a long, looping, Finn Russell-esque pass from Chris Dean on turnover ball released Duhan van der Merwe on the left. The big South African had half the pitch to cover, and he was brought down by Dragons’ cover defence, but he wasn’t held so bounced straight back to his feet, before brushing off three more challenges on his way to the line.
Van der Walt missed the conversion, which brought his remarkable kicking run to an end after 21 on the bounce.
With two minutes left on the clock, Dougie Fife sent van der Merwe over for his second try of the night.
Edinburgh: D Fife; D Graham, J Johnstone, C Dean (J Socino 75), D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman (R Sutherland 75), R Ford (D Cherry 56), P Ceccarelli (M McCallum 64), F McKenzie (C Hunter-Hill 70), B Toolis, M Bradbury, L Crosbie, B Mata (A Miller 75).
Substitutes: R, , , Nathan Fowles, Simon Hickey,
Dragons: J Williams (Z Kirchner 72); J Rosser, T Morgan, J Sage (G Henson 56), W Talbot-Davies; J Lewis, R Williams (R Davies 70); B Harris (R Fawcett 64), R Hibbard (R Lawrenc 72), L Fairbrother (D Suter 75), J Davies (L Evans 45), M Screech, H Keddie, O Griffiths, J Benjamin (T Basham 67).
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Edinburgh: Tries: Johnstone 2, Bradbury, van der Merwe 2; Cons: Van der Walt 3; Pen: Van der Walt.
Dragons: Tries: Morgan 2; Con: Lewis 2; Pen: Lewis.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-7; 12-7; 14-7; 14-12; 14-14; 14-17 (h-t) 17-17; 22-17; 24-17; 29-17; 34-17