DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
A TENSE and entertaining match ended in deep disappointment for Edinburgh when their late charge for glory came up short. This defeat leaves the capital side chasing a shadow in terms of Champions Cup qualification at the end of this season.
Scarlets now need six points from their two remaining games in order to seal that third place finish in Conference B of the PRO14. Edinburgh have four games left and will keep battling until the dream is absolutely dead and buried, but they know now that the remainder of this campaign needs to be about trying to generate momentum for their European last 16 clash on the first weekend of April, and building towards next season.
It is doubly frustrating for Edinburgh because they played some really attractive and effective rugby, but that old problem of coughing up cheap points cost them dearly again.
“I think it’s going to be tough for us from here on in,” conceded head coach Richard Cockerill. “It’s a game we could have easily won, but we didn’t manage territory particularly well in the first half. We had 70 percent territory against us but still managed to be in front [at half-time] but then we concede ten easy points from a couple of errors [at the start of the second half].
“We got ourselves back into the game and could have easily won it at the death. We had a penalty to win it and then had some long phases to try and win it at the death. It finished three tries a piece, so it’s a game we could have won, but a bit of luck and fortune wasn’t on our side.”
“We’ve got to keep developing players, and we’ll potentially give some other guys an opportunity,” he added. “I’ve no idea who we will or won’t get back next week, but we’ve got to keep working hard at our game.
“Europe is going to be the focus now I suppose. But we’ll try as hard as we can to get as many points as we can.”
Edinburgh laid down an early marker by sending two kickable penalties towards the touchline, and they got their reward when Magnus Bradbury – filling in as a second-row – rumbled over from close range with just five minutes played, after a series of punishing drives in which Pierre Schoeman and Grant Gilchrist featured prominently. Jaco van der Walt added the conversion.
True to recent form, Edinburgh almost immediately offered Scarlets a way back into the match, with Dan Jones slotting an offside penalty just four minutes later, but his time the home side avoided compounding that lapse with another one, and when Damien Hoyland was tackled high as he ran the ball back from full-back, van der Walt stepped forward to restore the seven-point cushion.
Scarlets came again and Edinburgh initially did a pretty good job of soaking it up on their own 22, even winning a turnover when Bradbury’s shoulder dislodged the ball in contact, but then a brilliantly worked attack from a line-out cut the home team wide open, with Dan Jones’s inside pass releasing Tom Prydie, who then sent Tyler Morgan galloping under the posts. There was a brief hold-up while referee Ben Blain confirmed that the final pass had not strayed forward, and it was borderline, but the move deserved a score.
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A penalty against Scarlets for not rolling away in front of their own posts allowed van der Walt to edge the host back into the lead as the game entered its second quarter, only for Scarlets to strike back again when Darcy Graham switched wings to tidy up a mischievous kick from Steff Evans which had created all sort of confusion in Edinburgh’s backfield. The winger made some good ground but then threw a speculative pass out of the tackle which handed possession right back to his opponents, and Scarlets took full advantage by immediately transferring the ball to the opposite touchline, where Johnny McNicholl stretched past Hoyland to score in the corner.
It was entertaining stuff and then Edinburgh picked it up a gear with a breathless passage of play, offloading like the Harlem Globetrotters – or as close to the Harlem Globetrotters as any team coached by Cockerill will ever manage – culminating in van der Walt scooping up a loose ball and beating his man, before sending Graham home.
There was a bit of handbags before the try was awarded because van der Walt took exception to opposite number Dan Jones following through with his tackle after the pass had gone, but it was all just handbags, and the Edinburgh No10 recovered his composure to knock over the conversion which made it 20-17 at the break.
— Edinburgh Rugby (@EdinburghRugby) February 27, 2021
The second half got off to a pretty disastrous start for Edinburgh when George Taylor spilled the ball under no sort of pressure and Steff Evans hacked ahead twice, before scrum-half Dane Blacker arrived on the scene to flop over the line, with Dan Jones firing home the touchline conversion, and then adding an offside penalty almost straight from the restart for good measure.
In the space of seven minutes, a narrow half-time lead had transformed into a seven-point deficit, and it nearly got worse for the home team when James Johnstone was sucked in by Sione Kalamafoni which allowed Steff Evans to escape up the left touchline then feed Blacker, who perhaps should have zoned in on the corner rather than send a back-handed flip in field which didn’t go to hand.
Van der Walt had the option of the posts when Scarlets were penalised in the middle of the park but went for the corner, and Edinburgh picked up two more penalties in quick succession, before their pack power finally delivered a try through replacement hooker Dave Cherry at the back of a line-out drive.
No conversion so Edinburgh were still two points adrift, but this time they controlled the restart, and were soon back on the offensive with another high-octane passage of play, but they couldn’t find a way through and a Grant Gilchrist knock-on followed by a penalty against Cherry for lying on the wrong side allowed Scarlets off the hook.
With seven minutes to go, van der Walt had the chance to put Edinburgh back in front with a 47-metre penalty. It was right on the edge of his range, and although his effort had the legs, it floated agonisingly to the right of the posts.
When he got another bite at the cherry less than two minutes later, from sightly further out and a less central position, the stand-off opted to kick the territory, but Edinburgh were frustrated when Chris Dean collided with referee Blain meaning that play went back for scrum.
Still they kept going, battling through over 20 phases as the game moved into overtime, and when Graham broke down the right touchline it looked like the hosts might just make it, but he was closed down in the corner and couldn’t find a team-mate as he desperately tried to keep the ball alive. Scarlets snaffled possession and fired the ball into touch to bring the curtain down on an excellent contest, which ended in disappointment for the home team, but served as a reminder that rugby can be fun.
Edinburgh: D Hoyland; D Graham, J Johnstone, G Taylor (C Dean 72), E Sau; J van der Walt, N Groom (C Shiel 52); P Schoeman, M Willemse (D Cherry 52), L Atalifo (M McCallum 67(), M Bradbury (A Ferreira 78), G Gilchrist, N Haining (L Crosbie 22-34), A Miller, V Mata (L Crosbie 61).
Scarlets: J McNicholl; T Prydie, T Morgan, S Hughes (P Asquith 58), S Evans; D Jones (A O’Brien 67), D Blacker; P Price (K Mathias 68), M Jones (T Davies 68), P Scholtz (A Jeffries 68), M Jones, S Lousi, U Cassiem (E Kennedy 67), J Morgan (T Ratuva 15-24, 44), S Kalamafoni.
Referee: B Blain (Scotland).
Edinburgh: Tries: Bradbury, Graham, Cherry; Con: Van der Walt 2; Pen: Van der Walt 2.
Scarlets: Trie: Morgan, McNicholl, Blacker; Con: D Jones 3; Pen: D Jones 2.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-3; 10-3; 10-8; 10-10; 13-10; 13-15; 13-17; 18-17; 20-17 (h-t) 20-22; 20-24; 20-27; 25-27.