Newcastle Falcons 26
STUART BATHGATE @ ERS
EDINBURGH did not have the happy homecoming they had hoped for at their new ground – not, at least, in terms of the result. But there were some reasons to be cheerful, nonetheless, despite the four-tries-to-one defeat.
Perhaps most importantly, this first match under Mike Blair offered glimpses of the more adventurous and entertaining style espoused by the new head coach. And, although some of the attacks lacked an incisive edge, that will surely come as match fitness grows.
The most worrying aspect of the match from the home point of view was an early injury which ended Jaco van der Walt’s participation in the afternoon. Newcastle had similar concerns, as two of their players had to be carried off.
There was no immediate word afterwards on the Falcons players, but Blair was upbeat about Van der Walt, saying he appeared to have taken a knock to the jaw but seemed to be in good fettle. In general, the coach seemed pleased by what he had seen from his players – but above all, satisfied that at long last the team has a ground it can call its own.
“It’s a piece of rugby history and a watershed moment that our supporters, players and anyone connected to the club has waited on for a very long time,” Blair said. “I may only have been back involved at the club for a short period, but the excitement and buzz around our new home has been hugely apparent from my first day in charge.
“You go into a game with a plan of what you’re trying to get out, and I think we got that. But at the same time we’re disappointed because we didn’t get the win. Newcastle are probably a week ahead of us in terms of their preparation – they played last week and their league starts next weekend. They had a really strong team out there for the first 50 minutes.
“We had a lot of young guys out there in the second half, guys playing their first game. I’m really pleased with the effort and the enthusiasm. There were enough positives there to keep a smile on the face.
“There were little things in the game that can go a little bit better, but I’m pleased we’ve got that attitude of trying to find solutions to issues that aren’t just standard solutions.”
As they had been against Glasgow eight days earlier, the Falcons were both sharper and more solid than their Scottish hosts. They had to defend for long stretches of the game, but they did so with a fair degree of composure and cohesion.
Edinburgh played some entertaining stuff at times, with creative touches that would have been improbable during the Richard Cockerill era. But at other times they were guilty of trying to force the game, and several of their multi-phase attacks ended in ragged fashion, with individuals being isolated.
But these shortcomings are to be expected on a first outing of pre-season. After four years of adherence to a more programmed game plan under their previous coach, they cannot be expected to adapt instantly or flawlessly to Blair’s invitation to think on their feet more frequently.
Edinburgh should have scored in the opening exchanges, but, after opting to tap a penalty in front of the posts, they were turned over a couple of metres shy of the Falcons line. Then, offered a similar opportunity minutes later, they chose to go for goal, and Van der Walt opened the home account from just outside the 22.
Blair’s team continued to dominate territory as the midway point of the half approached, but they could not turn pressure into points, and suffered a sucker blow when Newcastle scrum-half Louis Schreuder intercepted a Jaco van der Walt pass on his own 10m line and just managed to evade Mark Bennett on how way to touching down in the left corner. Brett Connon added the conversion.
Damien Hoyland had a half-chance to hit back right away when Henry Immelman flipped a pass on to him, but he was tackled into touch slightly shy of the line. However, having been denied on that occasion, the winger then managed to create the score that regained the lead, scooping a pass off the deck to Bennett, who broke clear and touched down between the posts.
Van der Walt converted, but that was the stand-off’s last action of the game, as he sustained an injury and was replaced by Charlie Savala. Newcastle hit back five minutes before the break when hooker George McGuigan finished off a powerful driving maul from a lineout, and although the conversion was missed, that was enough to keep the visitors in front at half-time.
The Falcons started off the stronger team in the second half, and stretched their advantage when substitute Ollie Lindsay-Hague finished off a slick backs move in the right corner. Connon was on target this time, making it 10-19.
Edinburgh needed to stop the rot, and they began to play some of their most adventurous rugby of the game as they attempted to get back on terms. But again, a combination of stout defending and some hasty handling errors prevented them from turning possession into points.
Newcastle continued to look dangerous on occasion, and with barely two minutes left they made their win more emphatic with another breakaway try. The move began close to their own goal-line after another home attack had been thwarted, and it was finished off in style by Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti. Tom Marshall’s conversion completed the scoring.
Edinburgh: H Immelman; J Blain, M Bennett, C Hutchison, D Hoyland; J van der Walt, B Vellacott; B Venter, D Cherry (captain), L de Bruin, M Sykes, J Hodgson, M Bradbury, L Crosbie, N Haining. Substitutes: P Schoeman, H Lloyd, A McBurney, P Harrison, L Atalifo, A Williams, P Phillips, J Campbell, B Muncaster, C Boyle, C Shiel, H Pyrgos, C Savala, R Moyano, J Venter, J Johnstone, P Anderson.
Newcastle: M Brown; T Penny, B Stevenson, P Lucock (captain), I Stephens; B Connon, L Schreuder; L Mulipola, G McGuigan, T Davison, S Robinson, G Peterson, P van der Walt, C Collett, C Fearns. Substitutes: J Blamire, K Cooper, M Tampin, M Fuser, M Dalton, W Haydon-Wood, L Johnson, G Wacokecoke, R Palframan, G Merrick, W Montgomery, M Tiffen, T Marshall, C Nordli-Kelemeti, O Lindsay-Hague, A Tait, E Greenlaw, Z Kerr.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Try: Bennett. Con: Van der Walt. Pen: Van der Walt.
Newcastle: Tries: Schreuder, McGuigan, Lindsay-Hague, Nordli-Kelemeti. Cons: Connon 2, Marshall.
Scoring sequence: 3-0, 3-5, 3-7, 8-7, 10-7, 10-12 half-time, 10-17, 10-19, 10-14, 10-26.
Referee: B Bain (SRU).