IF you had been on the way home from Murrayfield on Monday night when someone asked you what had happened in the match, a flippant reply would have sprung readily to mind: “Haven’t the foggiest.”
While the haar had posed no real problem in the first half of Edinburgh’s 18-0 win over Cardiff, it got steadily worse in the second. Visibility on the pitch was probably at least 30 metres, but even so, that meant that longer kicks would disappear into the murk, and that counter-attacks initiated from deep would not be seen at the outset.
Yet for all that conditions verged on the farcical late in the game, a couple of things remained very clear. First, this was a composed and disciplined performance from Richard Cockerill‘s team, who by no means had their own way despite that one-sided scoreline. And second, for all that it was a team effort, there were some individual performances of real promise from the least experienced members of the 23, with stand-off Nathan Chamberlain, for one, being praised by the head coach for his contribution.
In normal circumstances, Cockerill might well have chosen an entirely different 23 for the PRO14 match, as that was the number of players missing from his squad because of international duty, injuries and Covid protocols. That made the home team’s composure and perseverance all the more commendable, as did the fact that the Blues were in contention for the bulk of the game, and even when they went 15-0 down they still pressed in search of the score that would at least take them within reach of a losing bonus point.
The Welsh side defended well, too, comfortably repelling the bulk of Edinburgh’s attacks even though front-row forwards Lee Roy Atalifo and David Cherry eventually crossed for tries.
Chamberlain added two penalties and a conversion, prompting Cockerill to acknowledge “a really competent performance”. But he insisted himself that a large part of the credit for that should go to the older, wiser heads around him, particularly captain Henry Pyrgos and inside centre Chris Dean.
“The whole team were very composed,” the 20-year-old said. “It comes from all the lads helping the young lads out – there’s a few young lads in the team and the senior players help us out a lot. Henry at scrum-half, Deano outside me as well, so it all came down from the senior players as much as us younger players trying to control that game as well.
“We stuck it out till the end and we’re happy we got the win. We couldn’t really see much near the end, but it was good. It was a bit greasy under foot as well, but we changed our game plan, we changed to a kicking game, and that seemed to work for us. It was a good performance from the whole group.”
As regular playmaker Jaco van der Walt will be in quarantine for another week or more following his return from his wedding in South Africa, Chamberlain will remain at 10 next Monday night for the toughest fixture of the season against champions Leinster in Dublin. It is not a prospect that fazes him, even though the home team will be overwhelming favourites to keep up their remarkable winning run in the league.
“We’ve got to take a lot of confidence into that,” Chamberlain insisted. “They’ve been unbeaten for 25 games, I think, so it’s a good test for us and coming off the back of two tight wins gives us a lot of confidence going into that game. I feel we can back ourselves.”
Given that Edinburgh had shown equal amounts of character and combativeness in their previous match, the 6-3 win over Scarlets that brought a run of six defeats to the end, it seemed appropriate to ask Cockerill what had changed over the last fortnight. If the coach was tempted to say “Haven’t the foggiest”, he managed to resist, preferring to attribute the improved results to hard work and commitment.
“We don’t mess about,” he said. “The boys are committed and they get stuck in, and sometimes other teams come thinking ‘Well they’re missing so many people, we should beat them’. We’ve just got to keep digging hard and working hard. And the boys are working hard at training. Training doesn’t change – it doesn’t get softer or easier because people are away. We’ve been working really hard to hopefully put a performance out like we did tonight.”