PRO14: flawed but improving Edinburgh see off Cheetahs

Capital side secure bonus point with late Jamie Ritchie try

Jamie Ricthie
Jamie Ritchie, Bill Mata and Grant Gilchrist are back in the Edinburgh squad to face Benetton. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk.

Edinburgh 37

Cheetahs 21

STUART BATHGATE @ Murrayfield

DO NOT be fooled by that sizeable margin of victory. Edinburgh were in trouble for much of this game and were trailing the Cheetahs at one point in the second half before eventually securing a bonus point with their fourth try in the dying minutes.

Still, while this was an unconvincing display in part, and the defects that had dogged them against Benetton a week earlier were again in evidence, the crucial difference here was that they at least displayed a greater ability to overcome them. And, perhaps most importantly with the tougher challenges of the Heineken Champions Cup coming up, they are actually improving. Complete consistency may be some way off, but this was a second five-pointer in a row for Richard Cockerill’s team, and the head coach regarded that progress as one of the most important aspects of the evening.

“Not great performances, but 10 points,” Cockerill said. “We’re not perfect by a long way, but we’re getting there slowly.

“It was a great five points for us, but disappointing we didn’t score more points in the first half. We could have scored six or seven tries in that first half, but we dropped the ball, we ran into touch, we didn’t execute. That nearly came back to haunt us a little bit, but credit to the players for the way they came back.


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“We go to Montpellier next week in the Champions Cup, but we have to be a lot better. We are improving and it is a sign of how we’re getting better in that we’re not happy with that performance in victory. We can play better than that.

“We have young guys though like Darcy Graham, who I thought was our best player tonight. For a young lad he showed everybody on the field what grit and determination and a bit of devil can do.

“We go into the two European games with our eyes open and will go and have some fun and see how good we are against two of the best teams around. Montpellier and Toulon next up does not get much harder.”

If Graham was Edinburgh’s best player, his opposite number Rabz Maxwane was the star of the show, scoring two tries, creating another for Nico Lee,  and threatening to do further damage every time he was in possession. But, while the South African winger was the outstanding individual on the field, Edinburgh had greater quality overall, and were particularly dominant up front. Graham scored one of the four tries on his first appearance of the season, but the other three came from forwards – Ben Toolis, Bill Mata and substitute Jamie Ritchie.  

Two penalties in the first 10 minutes from Simon Hickey were the only incidents of note in almost the entire opening quarter, but then right on the midpoint of the half Toolis grabbed the first try of the night from a metre out after a patient, close-range assault on the line from the home pack. Hickey added the two points, and everything kept progressing smoothly if a touch soporifically until five minutes before half-time.

Then the Cheetahs provided a reminder of just how dangerous they can be with their first score of the night. Maxwane was tight to the left touchline when he took a pass, but he was able to burst in-field and evade the tackles of Blair Kinghorn and Hickey before eventually being brought down just shy of the line by Duhan van der Merwe. The winger was not to be denied, however, as he was able to pop up a pass for Nico Lee to touch down.

To their credit, Edinburgh responded immediately, with Graham scoring in the corner off a Kinghorn pass. Hickey’s conversion restored the lead to 13 points at half-time, and it was reasonable to expect the home team to take a tighter grip on the game in the second pass.

Instead, the Cheetahs raced into the lead with two quick tries, both scored by that man Maxwane. The winger was in his usual position for the first, turning inside to avoid an attempt by Pyrgos to tackle him into touch. For his second, he came into the line two phases after being stopped short on the wing, and this time it was Kinghorn and McInally who were unable to deny him the score. Tian Schoeman converted both, the second putting the Cheetahs into the lead for the first time.

A third penalty from Hickey soon changed that, but Edinburgh were still back in the same sort of nervous battle they had had with Benetton a week earlier. Going into the final quarter, however, they began to win the arm-wrestle, and were unlucky not to stretch their lead when the industrious Lee was deemed to have held up a drive. Bill Mata had emerged from the bottom of the heap that time, but a minute later he ensured there was no doubt as he forced his way over. Hickey, whose excellent kicking had made the difference a week earlier after Benetton had won the try count, again converted to put his team more than a full score in front.

With time running out for the Cheetahs, the Edinburgh pack belatedly got on top, with substitutes such as Luke Hamilton having a noticeable impact in the set piece. When Charles Marais was sinbinned two minutes from time for a high tackle on McInally, a penalty kicked to touch five metres out set up the chance to claim the bonus point, and Jamie Ritchie did the honours at the end of a well-executed rolling maul. Two more points from Hickey rounded off the victory.

 

Teams –

Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Graham, J Johnstone, J Socino, D van der Merwe; S Hickey, H Pyrgos; R Sutherland, S McInally, W Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, H Watson, V Mata. Subs: R Ford, M McCallum, S Berghan, L Hamilton, J Ritchie, S Kennedy, J van der Walt, C Dean.

Cheetahs: L Fouche; W Small Smith, B van Rensburg, N Lee, R Maxwane; T Schoeman, T Meyer; O Nce, J du Toit, A Coetzee, J Basson, J du Preez, N Jordaan, J Pokamela, S Malan. Subs:  J Dweba, C Marais, G van Vuuren, W Steenkamp, D Maartens, A Nonkontwana, S Venter, A Mgijima.

 

Scorers –

Edinburgh: Tries: Toolis, Graham, Mata, Ritchie. Cons: Hickey 4. Pens: Hickey 3.

Cheetahs: Tries: Lee, Maxwane 2. Cons: Schoeman 3. Pens:

Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 3-0, 6-0, 11-0, 13-0, 13-5, 13-7, 18-7, 20-7 half-time, 20-12, 20-14, 20-19, 20-21, 23-21, 28-21, 30-21, 35-21, 37-21.

 

Yellow card 

Cheetahs: Marais 

Referee: M Mitra (Italy).

 

Attendance: 4,555


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About Stuart Bathgate 1212 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.