Sale Sharks 15
AFTER a dismal first half in which they displayed some customary failings, Edinburgh produced their best 40 minutes of the season so far to pull off a valuable Champions Cup victory at the AJ Bell Stadium. They were a dozen points down at the break – and it might well have been more – but a Mark Bennett try got them up and running in the second half, and Jaco van der Walt added a conversion and three penalties.
Richard Cockerill’s team still have an awful lot to do if they are to finish in the top four of Pool A and so qualify for a place in the quarter-finals, but this result has given their season an altogether healthier complexion. It also suggests that the depth of their squad may be greater than it has seemed, as it was achieved without such key players as Jamie Ritchie, Henry Pyrgos and Darcy Graham.
After losing 13-8 at home to La Rochelle last weekend, Edinburgh desperately needed a win, but there was little sign of one emerging during a lacklustre first half. After turning round with that dozen-point deficit, however, they steadily got better.
“It was actually pretty positive at half-time,” player of the match Hamish Watson insisted afterwards. “We knew we had actually defended pretty well and it was just two slip-ups which had let them into the game.
“We knew that if we could actually get the ball and hold onto it than we would get opportunities, and in that second half we got some possession and managed to come out on top. I thought our half-backs kicked really well and got us playing in the right areas in that second half. We did really well and showed some good character to come out on top in that game.
“We showed up today. It’s a tough tournament, and we lost our first game narrowly, so we knew it was a must-win for us, so we’re really happy that we won.”
Despite their substandard first half, Edinburgh actually had the first scoring chance of the game after Sale offended in a scrum, but Van der Walt was just off target with the penalty. The visitors had the bulk of the possession for the ensuing ten minutes or so, only to fall behind through a moment of slackness in defence when a swiftly taken lineout on the left by Sale created a massive overlap on the right. The scoring pass to Denny Solomona looked forward, but the try was given after a review and Robert du Preez added the conversion.
Playing with considerably more confidence as a result of that score, the Sharks increased their lead midway through the half. Bennett flew out of the defensive line in the hope of snuffing out an attack, failed to get there, and left a big gap through which Rohan Janse van Rensburg cruised to score unopposed. Du Preez failed to convert this time.
After a scrappy start to the second half, Edinburgh opened their account when Bennett finished off after a good charge by Hamish Watson. Van der Walt added the two points, and with almost half an hour still to play it was very much game on.
Sale’s confidence had gone, whereas Edinburgh, with Nic Groom on at scrum-half and two new props as well, looked increasingly lively.Just before the hour mark Van der Walt closed the gap to 12-10 after Sale were penalised for not rolling away. Five minutes later the stand-off was on target with another penalty, and after nearly being down and out, Edinburgh were on top by a point.
A chance to extend that lead moments later was ended when Blair Kinghorn fumbled forward, but then Edinburgh had a let-off when Van Rensburg thought he had scored again, only for the offload from Cobus Wiese to be ruled forward. There was no such escape, however, when Chris Dean was penalised, and from beyond the 10-metre line Du Preez restored his team’s lead.
That left Edinburgh with 10 minutes in which to rescue the game, and their hopes were boosted when Jean-Luc du Preez was sinbinned for a shoulder charge on Watson. Van der Walt’s penalty was good, and the score was 15-16 in the visitors’ favour. While Sale’s sniping still threatened, Edinburgh’s game management showed a composure that has all too often been lacking this season, and they saw the game out with some comfort.
Teams – Sale Sharks: S Adams; D Solomona (C Doherty 66), R van Rensburg, S Hill, M Yarde; R du Preez, F de Klerk (captain) (W Cliff 77); B Rodd (R Harrison 51), A van der Merwe (C Langdon 66), J Cooper-Woolley (C Oosthuizen 51), M Postlethwaite, JP du Preez (J Phillips 70), C Wiese (C Neild 65), S Dugdale, JL du Preez. Unused substitute: L James.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; J Blain, M Bennett (J Johnstone 70), C Dean, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, C Shiel (N Groom 49); R Sutherland (P Schoeman 53), S McInally (captain) (D Cherry 71), S Berghan (W Nel 53), B Toolis, J Hodgson (A Ferreira 66), M Bradbury, H Watson, V Mata (L Crosbie 65). Unused substitute: N Chamberlain.
Scorers: Sale: Tries: Solomona, Van Rensburg. Con: R du Preez. Pen: R Du Preez.
Edinburgh: Try: Bennett. Con: Van der Walt. Pens: Van der Walt 3.
Yellow card: Sale: JL du Preez 71.
Referee: R Poite (France).