EDINBURGH slumped to a sixth defeat in seven URC outings last night as their chances of qualifying for the play-offs were dealt another blow. They are now down to 11th as a result of this six-tries-to-two defeat by Scarlets, and with just four league games to go have it all to do to get back into the top eight.
Mike Blair’s team were without many of their front-line internationals for this match at Parc y Scarlets – as, indeed, were the home team – but he declined to make that an excuse for a display which he termed unacceptable. Having said that, the head coach insisted that Edinburgh were still capable of battling their way back into the top eight.
“We’re pretty gutted,” he said on Viaplay. “The performance we put on the pitch tonight wasn’t acceptable in any area, and the responsibility for that lies with the coaches – how we prepare the guys and the individual responsibility on each player going into that game.
“Physically I thought Scarlets were outstanding. They made a real mess of our breakdown, they were relentless, and they scored some brilliant tries.
“I just felt we were reactive to everything – we weren’t proactive. There were elements of real effort around what we were doing, but it was almost like we waited for a picture to happen before we made a decision around it.
“That performance isn’t something that we’ve seen so far this season. We had a good team out – a team capable of winning that game tonight.”
Asked what the result meant for his side’s play-off hopes, Blair added: “It’s really tight, but we believe it’s in our hands. We’ve got four games left in the URC, so we look after them and there’s still a chance of getting in the top eight.”
Edinburgh were forced into a late change to their line-up when captain Dave Cherry withdrew through illness. Adam McBurney was promoted to the starting line-up, Paddy Harrison came onto the bench, and Hamish Watson took over as skipper.
Whether that enforced alteration or something else was to blame, the fact was that the visitors began the match in lacklustre fashion, while the home side soon had the bit between their teeth.
Ryan Conbeer opened the scoring for Scarlets after five minutes with an all-too-easy try on the left wing. The winger had a lot to do when the ball came down the line to him from a lineout, but after he was downed by Wes Goosen he managed to get up again and carry over the line. Sam Costelow added the conversion.
Then Edinburgh went further behind when Mark Bennett fumbled a pass by James Lang and the ball bounced straight into the arms of Vaea Fifita, who ran in unopposed from halfway. Another two points from Costelow made it 14-0.
Goosen went off injured after receiving an accidental elbow to the head and was replaced by Jaco van der Walt. Little had gone right for Edinburgh in the first quarter, but they got off the mark a minute into the second quarter when Murray McCallum finished off after an excellent break from Lang. Charlie Savala converted, and the visitors were back in the match after a poor start.
Costelow missed a chance to add three points to his tally when he was off target from a penalty given against Glen Young for offside. Another award minutes later went to touch 10 metres from the Edinburgh line, then the Scarlets got a scrum five metres out but were turned over.
Just as Edinburgh thought they had ended the danger, Sam Lousi dispossessed Charlie Shiel at the base of a ruck and touched down. Referee Andrea Piardi awarded a try, but reversed his decision when a TMO replay showed the scrum-half had not lifted the ball out of the ruck.
However, the third try was only delayed. Lousi made a half-break on the edge of the 22 and offloaded to Steff Evans, who sprinted in unopposed. Costelow found his range again to put his team 21-7 ahead.
Scarlets had come close to getting the bonus-point try late in the first half, and they wasted little time in securing it in the second. Steff Evans again did the damage by coming into midfield, and Conbeer finished off in the left corner.
That looked like game over, but just to make sure the Welsh side added a fifth touchdown barely a minute later. Johnny McNicholl caught his own chip ahead then passed to Fifita, who broke clear and after crossing the line charitably passed to Gareth Davies. Dan Jones, who had come on at half-time in place of the injured Costelow, converted both those tries.
Boan Venter, one of Edinburgh’s best performers, got a try back on the hour mark when he powered his way over the line from close range with Savala converting. For a few moments it looked like Edinburgh were in with a chance of hitting back and getting the two full scores they needed for two bonus points in defeat. Instead, it was the home side who finished more strongly,
A scrum five metres out gave them an attacking platform, and substitute Eddie James barged his way over for his side’s sixth try. Jones’ conversion ended the scoring.
Scarlets: J McNicholl; Steff Evans, J Roberts, I Nicholas, R Conbeer (E James 51); S Costelow (D Jones 41), G Davies (D Blacker 62); K Mathias (S Thomas 62), Shaun Evans (T Davies 61), S Wainwright (J Sebastian 62), M Jones, S Lousi (C Tuipulotu 74), V Fifita, D Davis (B Williams 72), S Kalamafoni (captain).
Edinburgh: W Goosen (J van der Walt 18); D Hoyland, M Bennett (C Dean 65), J Lang, J Blain; C Savala, C Shiel (B Vellacott 48); B Venter (J Jack 72), A McBurney (P Harrison 52), M McCallum (L Atalifo 52), G Young (M Sykes 46), J Hodgson, N Haining, H Watson (captain, C Boyle 65), V Mata.
Scorers: Scarlets: Tries: Conbeer 2, Fifita, Evans, Davies, James. Cons: Costelow 3, D Jones 3.
Edinburgh: Tries: McCallum, Venter. Cons: Savala 2.
Scoring sequence (Scarlets first): 5-0, 7-0, 12-0, 14-0, 14-5, 14-7, 19-7, 21-7 half-time, 26-7, 28-7, 33-7, 35-7, 35-12, 35-14, 40-14, 42-14.
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy).