Edinburgh v Newcastle: Hosts take advantage of Falcons’ front-row woes

Blair Kinghorn try seals bonus point win against a depleted Falcons side to go top

Blair Kinghorn
Blair Kinghorn is congratulated by Hamish Watson after scoring Edinburgh's bonus point try. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

Edinburgh 31

Newcastle Falcons 13

DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield

JOB DONE. On a wet and windy night in the Scottish capital, Richard Cockerill’s men got the bonus-point win they needed to put themselves in the driving seat in pool five of this European Champions Cup campaign. They are now three points ahead of Falcons at the halfway stage. Montpellier and Toulon, who play each other tomorrow afternoon, are six and ten points behind, respectively.

Newcastle arrived in Edinburgh in the midst of a tighthead prop crisis. With Jon Welsh, Craig Mitchell and Paul Mullen all being ruled out during the week, and David Wilson dropping out on the day. That meant Sam Lockwood (who hasn’t played tight-head for several years) started in the number three jersey, with Sami Mavinga (another loose-head) covering both sides of the front-row from a seven as opposed to eight-man bench. Falcons were also without flanker Mark Wilson, who was voted England’s player of the Autumn last month, who had an ear infection.

EPCR, the tournament organisers, refused a Falcons request for an emergency dispensation to register an extra tight-head in the squad after Tuesday’s deadline, and Dean Richards – the club’s head coach – was understandably unimpressed.

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“It is not like playing a left wing on the right wing, or an inside-centre at outside-centre – there is a safety issue there and they weren’t prepared to address it, so I was particularly disappointed with that,” he said.

“Full credit to the boys, they stuck at it,” he added. “We wanted to give as many of the boys who played against Toulon [in an excellent win in round two of this campaign] the chance to come out and perform again, but their opportunity was thwarted by bureaucracy – which is ridiculous.”

You can only beat the team which appears in front of you, and Edinburgh head coach Cockerill was satisfied with what his players had achieved – although he was not entirely enthused by the performance.

“It was a good win,” he said. “It was a one-off game with the circumstances around the team they picked and the issues around their front-row. You’ve got to take what you can and we did, but we know next week will be different.

“Dean’s pretty smart, he puts it out there. Is it going to be contested or uncontested scrums? And I think that played on our minds a little bit and we looked a little bit rusty in the first half, plus it was a miserable old night.

“It was a night for the underdog, but they took a similar team to Tolulon and got a result, so it was a good five points – but we won’t get carried away. We’re halfway through and we have to win away from home if we’re going to qualify, which is the one thing we haven’t done this year.”

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The game

After a scrappy start, Edinburgh fell behind to a fourth minute penalty from Falcons stand-off Brett Connon after a Pierre Schoeman offside at a ruck, but they recovered their composure and after building pressure through several tight phases, the hosts took the lead when Hamish Watson blasted over from close range. Jaco van der Walt added the conversion, which went in off the post.

Man-of-the-match Henry Pyrgos piled the pressure back onto Newcastle after the restart with an excellent grubber into the corner, but a wayward forward pass – which was perhaps caught in the vicious wind – from Chris Dean let the visitors off the hook.

Edinburgh continued to dominate possession without really putting their opponents under pressure, and they paid a price when they fell behind again on the half hour mark – with Falcons winger Adam Radwan scooting over on the right after being put into space by some crisp handling from Tane Takulua, Connon and Pedro Bettencourt.

A collapsed scrum gave van der Walt an opportunity to tie the match, but he hit the post again and this time it did not deflect in. However, Falcons immediately infringed again with an offside, and this time Edinburgh’s South African stand-off made no mistake from in-front of the posts.

But the home team were soon behind again when Connon kicked three more points after Grant Gilchrist was penalised for coming in from the wrong side to pinch the ball as Falcons attempted to build a line-out drive.

Taming the Falcon

After a frustrating first half for Edinburgh, it was time to get ruthless, and the hosts went straight onto the offensive from the restart. After squeezing Falcons back onto their own line with a series of punishing forward drives, Dean bustled in under the shadow of the posts to reclaim the lead. Van der Walt slotted the easy conversion.

Then a Newcastle offside allowed Blair Kinghorn to kick for the corner, Gary Graham gave away another penalty for entering the drive from the side and this time Edinburgh took the scrum. It went down, Edinburgh opted to pack down again, got a shunt on before Newcastle splintered, and referee Marius Mitrea had no hesitation awarding the penalty try.

Darcy Graham appeared to have the bonus point wrapped up on the hour mark when he darted down the right wing, but Tom Arscott managed to get across to edge the flying Hawick man into touch as he dived for the line.

The home team got a fright when Radwan showed blistering pace to cut them open as the game moved into the final ten minutes, and it took an excellent cover tackle from replacement hooker David Cherry to halt that attack.

It wasn’t until the 73rd minute that things finally clicked with Kinghorn collecting a clearance kick and launching a sweeping attack, which was carried on by good link play from Graham, a brilliant offload from Viliame Mata and a well-judged toe-poke into space from van der Walt, before the Edinburgh full-back appeared on the scene again to score the bonus point try his team needed.

Teams –

Edinburgh: B Kinghorn (S Hickey 73); D Graham, J Johnstone (J Socino 61), C Dean, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos (N Fowles 68); P Schoeman (A Dell 61), S McInally (D Cherry 61-67), W Nel (S Berghan 61), B Toolis (C Hunter-Hill 60), G Gilchrist, J Ritchie (L Hamilton 61), H Watson, V Mata.

Newcastle Falcons: A Tait (J Williams 67); T Arscott, C Harris, P Bettencourt, A Radwan; B Connon, T Takulua; A Brocklebank (S Lockwood 76), G McGuigan (S Socino 67), S Lockwood (S Mavinga 61), T Cavubati (C Green 63), G Young, R Burrows, G Graham, C Chick (S Uzokwe 67).

Referee: Marius Mitre

Scorers –

Edinburgh: Tries: Watson, Dean, Penalty Try, Kinghorn; Con: van der Walt 3; Pen: van der Walt.

Newcastle Falcons: Tries: Radwan; Con: Connon; Pen: Connon 2

Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-3; 5-3; 7-3; 7-8; 7-10; 10-10; 10-13 (h-t) 15-13; 17-13; 24-13; 29-13; 31-13.

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About David Barnes 3668 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.