Scarlets v Edinburgh: heavy defeat does more damage to visitors’ play-off hopes

Mike Blair calls performance unacceptable after his team go down by six tries to two

Mike Blair
Mike Blair's Edinburgh side have fallen to 14th in the URC table. Image: © Craig Watson.

Scarlets 42
Edinburgh 14


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).

About Stuart Bathgate 1435 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.


  1. That was a tough watch. Defensively, we’re not at the races. If you invite the scarlets to play then don’t be surprised when they do. You need to smother their attacking threat but we had no line speed or intensity in the tackle. The URC is a stop start season and we can’t seem to cope post any break. I appreciate we’ve players out but the ones that cone in have got to be ready to play and challenge for starting spot or what’s the point of having them around. Goosen has had some dreadful luck and maybe it’s not meant to be and a change may help him out. Leinster game is now looking even more daunting than it would normally be. I hope the team can find a spark from somewhere.

  2. There are 2 aspects to management 1) Understanding what needs to be done and 2) Motivating and driving the team to do it no matter how hard the task. I think Blair gets the first but my sense is there is not enough distance between Blair the coach and Blair one of the boys.. we’re in danger of heading back to the pre Cockers days when the team lacked drive and real pride in what they did. On paper they are better than Glasgow yet they are massively underperforming. Maybe Blair needs people management coaching

    • as pointed out in another comment, Edinburgh had a bounce last season under Blair, aided by an easier early season fixtures list. And yes, Edinburgh had a bounce under Cockerill, a bounce which had gone before Cockerill did, Edin actually lost players because of Cockerill (Sutherland and I suspect Duhan). Cockerill also could not see that Darge was a generational talent. Cockerill got a gig with England under Eddie Jones, who went through assistants like a does of salts. No surprise Borthwick immediately ditches him. He is a dinosaur who has not moved on since coaching Leicester, where he oversaw their demise, and yes was sacked when he had totally lost the dressing room.

      So Mike Blair. I think he is a good coach. Whether he is head coach material, or head coach material yet, is clearly a pressing matter.

      I remember Leo Cullen taking over at Leinster. It was a disaster. Leinster appointed Stuart Lancaster to sit alongside Cullen. Seemed to work pretty damned well. Just perhaps it isn’t all about Blair and sacking him. Just perhaps he has been pushed too early to a job he was reluctant to take, and needs better support

  3. I may be wildly off the mark here but is this not a bit of a recurring theme with Edinburgh Rugby? An initial bright start to a coach’s tenure followed by a slump. Rather than the end of a new-coach bounce, maybe there’s something more fundamental going on within the club’s psyche, or with the players themselves…

  4. Not posted for some time but when I did I warned all of this happening. Mike Blair is a nice guy, but that’s half the problem. His coaching staff, ditto. Calum McCrae, was the only intense, crabbit, pushy coach there and when he left, he took a lot of Edinburgh’s spirit and intensity with him. Mike is actually right, some of it is an easy fix but IMHO he’s not capable of doing it.
    Franco Smith inherited an underachieving and badly motivated squad, look what a bit of intensity and respect for their head coach has done for them and Scotland too. Mike needs help or sacking, no middle ground or fudging the issue, it’s that bad.

  5. I think Edinburgh need an experienced head coach, maybe Vern Cotter, unless he’s lined up for Scotland again.I hoped Mike Blair could manage as head coach but feel he’s not experienced enough, probably have him as backs coach and get rid of Barber as I don’t think he’s brought any improvement to our setup. We now have a worse record the Danny Wilson had and he got bombed out.

    • Cotter has failed everywhere he has been since Scotland, wouldn’t want him anywhere near Edinburgh or Scotland. If Blair goes and i dont think he should yet, Lee Blacket would be a good shout and I’ve always been impressed by Nick Easter.

  6. Where is the accountability? Blair ‘s pre and post match press conferences are the recycling of management speak platitudes. Was last season a new coach bounce with a group of players who no longer listened or feared his predecessor? This season they have reverted to the soft Edinburgh of old. If the old pros aren’t cutting it time to give youth a blast to find out who are the future of the club.

  7. I’m still hurting from last nights result and was keen to hear what Mike Blair had to say after the game. Quotes from the BBC article – initial recognition that it was poor “We were not even at the races were we?”

    But then he says

    “The good bit or the frustrating bit is that a lot of it is easy to fix, being proactive in and around the breakdown.“

    That worries me if Mike thinks it’s an easy fix. There wasn’t just one area of the game where they were poor – there were many and I’d rather he said so and admitted that it’s not an easy fix. It’s not just one game where they’ve been poor ther have been many and as I have said earlier too many players are playing badly and making errors under pressure. If Mike thinks that’s an easy fix then I look forward to a good win at home against Leinster on March 5th or at least a committed performance.

  8. Pitiful to watch, with absentees no excuse. On this evidence the playoffs are as likely for Edinburgh as Italy and Wales sharing this year’s Six Nations title.

  9. I have previously commented that Edinburgh flattered to deceive in the first part of the 20/21 season with an easier start to the season with fixtures and teams missing their Lions players initially. We eventually scraped Champions qualification despite performances faltering and thanks to other results. At the start of this season, the fixtures were ot so kind and we contrived to lose or draw games, which couldn’t be attributed to injuries or unavailability of players. With the remaining fixtures we have, qualification for the top eight is a pipedream.

    Blair was a great player for Edinburgh but as he lacked experience coaching at the top level, a transitional Cockers/Blair pairing would have been a better alternative, retaining a competitive hard minded edge coupled with a more expansive attacking game.

    Does anyone know if Franco Smith has a brother or sister who is available ?

  10. I agree that Edinburgh should dispense with Blair if they miss out on playoffs. I’d rate the Edinburgn squad as a bit stronger than Glasgows, so 5 wins compared to Glasgow’s 9 is a massive under achievement.

  11. I agree that Edinburgh should dispense with Blair if they miss out on playoffs. I’d rate the Edinburgn squad as a bit stronger than Glasgows, so 5 wins compared to Glasgow’s 9 is a massive under achievement.

  12. Looking at the team before the game troubled me. Ponderings
    Why does Savala not take all the kicks?
    Where is Cammy Hutchison- at least he straightens the line.
    Haining did his best but lack of presence, physicality elsewhere in the forwards hamstrung the whole Edinburgh effort.
    Alas there’s a sort of inevitably surrounding Goosen and him getting injured.
    Even without VDM and Graham surely there are better wingers out there??
    I’d sign John Cooney, hard edged experienced and an excellent kicker.
    With how Glasgow are progressing and how we are in free fall the management of Edinburgh needs to find answers fast

  13. As I have commented before, Edinburgh had a “soft” early season fixture list last 2021/2022 ( with most league teams initially missing their Lions players) and flattered to deceive. In the latter part of the season, performances dropped against better opposition and we scraped into Champions qualification being helped by other results. This year, the fixture list was not so kind but we contrived to lose or draw games we should have won and it’s simply not just down to injuries or lack of player ability. Our qualification chances are next to zero given the remaining fixtures

    I wish Blair well but would have preferred at least an initial transitional handover pairing of him and Cockers.

    Does Franco Smith have a brother or sister who could help us out ?

  14. Before the match began I feared a thrashing but with a few weeks to generate intensity and focus surely the team will step up from the poor run .

    The first warning sign came with Blair pre match interview “ we only lost 5 out of 6 games by 7 points or less so we are not playing badly we just need to sort a few things “ WHAT don’t look at the score it can flatter most of those performances were well below acceptable in terms of application.
    Secondly you can always tell who in team up for it the team is by how fast they are from kick off and Edinburgh forwards strolled downfield as if they were running off at half time 30 pts up .

    Within that first 5 mins it was obvious nothing has changed so regretfully as a fan of Blair his coat has gone on the shaky peg. I have no idea what has gone wrong but the lack of intensity grit “ taking responsibility for making things happen “ ( Blair quote ) is a disease that spread thro team but it starts with senior members of forwards who do not lead the younger ones by example.

    So what to do :

    well in my opinion the league top 8 has gone the problems fitness levels , players at Blair’s disposal , difficulty of fixtures left ie Leinster ( who could put out a third team that could win by 20 ) . Blair needs to state clearly that lack of intensity commitment is unacceptable and regardless of outcome it’s non negotiable standard for all .

    20 % of squad needs to go . That includes some senior players who are not consistently setting standard above standard

    Recruitment this season has been poor needs to improve eg Wes Goosen looks injury prone . Certainly not a top class signing . Glasgow seem to have unearthed more Scottish talent and developed it better – can you believe we let Darge go !

    Coaching team needs reviewing as number one priority – we need intensity standards , fitness standards , and a flexible game plan that deals with fast line speed and teams that slow down our ball . An example Glasgow v Ulster . Ulster defence strong / fast Glasgow kept possession and continue to play it close in forwards wait for penalties they then convert thro rolling maul also increased kicking . Simples

    If anyone had been at London Scottish ( a team that are bottom of English 2 division ) game at start of season the evidence was there for all to see our fringe players were well off pace . Thank goodness lights went off before game ended .As far as league goes unless a miracle occurs lights have gone off . But let’s have a real go at Europe and 6 nations and reset wider team / coaching for next season .

  15. That was a shameful performance. Most of them looked like they had never played before and after watching Glasgow the previous night put together such a committed and organised performance you have to wonder what’s happening. Firstly you can say Scarlets are much better than their league position but we had 7 internationals in the pack and both sides were short of many internationals. The forwards were a rabble – line out poor, breakdown poor, turned over numerous times. Scrum was ok.

    The backs were worse with no penetration in attack and defensively poor. The Scarlets rush defence completely shut us down and the round the back loop just got us into even more trouble. We were so deep at times when we did try to go wide that we didn’t commit their defence at all. Yet when Scarlets had the ball they seemed to have lots of time on the ball and we put them under very little pressure. We had an international centre pairing who looked like schoolboys defensively.

    Sadly what this season has shown is that the 2nd string players are nowhere near as good as I thought – I honestly thought they should be URC contenders but nowhere near. Take the 2nd rows – Young, Sykes and Hodgson all capped internationals but have been very poor – lacking physicality, technique and basic skills. You could see this coming when we got humped by Munster at home and it’s just got worse since then. I’m just not sure how Blair turns this round.

    There is no way Edinburgh will make the top 8 in the URC so that’s gone and I suppose we still have a chance in Europe with all our Internationals on board. Can’t say I’m looking forward to using the remaining games on my season ticket. At least I can cheer on Glasgow.

  16. It was disappointing to see Edinburgh so far off the pace and, in some cases, completely brainless. Giving away penalties and territory so casually, whilst offering so little in attack was the perfect combination to earn the thumping they deserved. Quite how they’ve managed to sink so far in such a short space of time is difficult to understand, but most of the players who played so poorly have played a lot better, so questions have to be asked about their preparation. Maybe the squad lacks depth and some played who weren’t 100% fit due to international absences, but Glen Young and Charlie Shiel, for example, were a mile off the standard they played at not long ago. Maybe, someday both Scottish pro teams will play well at the same time, but it ain’t happening at the moment. It’s a shame.

  17. Blair has to go. I was very pleased when he go the job but they have 5 wins this season with what I believe is a very good squad. Edinburgh and Blair are in stark contrast to Glasgow and smith who has got a lot of improvement out of a squad he inherited. Blair talks like a coach who is out of ideas and frankly can’t get the best out of his players. A couple of good performances doesn’t cut it. Scotland can’t afford an underperforming pro side and Scarlets are not World beaters, this was about Edinburgh’s mediocrity, not scarlets improvement.

    • Something is seriously wrong at Edinburgh and sadly it has become abundantly clear that Blair isn’t ready to be a head coach.

      Cockerill instilled the much-needed backbone and resilience that had been missing from the team and that has been completely lost. They’ve gone back to being psychologically weak and easy to beat.

      Terrible discipline, no focus, crap in defence (Calum MacRae clearly has not been adequately replaced) and outfought by most opponents. It’s entirely unacceptable, particularly given the quality of players in the squad. It’s alarming how the players are very obviously not buying into whatever it is the coaches are trying to have them do.

      • Not being an Edinburgh fan, I find this nostalgia for Cockerill very strange. Yes his team played “hard nosed” rugby and could be hard to beat at times, but they also played the most boring brand of rugby I’ve ever seen. Surely there must be a balance between on the one hand open, attacking rugby and on the other a tight defence and high physicality. Other teams like Glasgow, Leinster and the South Africans manage it, but some Edinburgh fans seem to demand one or the other, not both. Maybe a better defence coach would help, it seems to me that there is undoubted talent in that squad if they can harness it properly

    • A total lack of intensity coupled with a total lack of commitment.
      Mike is not a head coach.
      Ask yourselves this question…is Mike Blair closer to being like Franco Smith or Franco Smith’s predecessor?

  18. Agreed, only aspect that performed was the scrum. Suspect we’re playing guys that are not fully fit, Mark B perhaps an example, he was in great form, but has fallen off dramatically.

    Glasgow on the other hand were great last night, looks like we’ve swapped round again and it will be Glasgow in the Champions Cup and us in the Challengers.

  19. Hard to see any positives from that from an Edinburgh perspective. It was a 2/10 performance across the board for me. Woeful. Lineouts and turnover at breakdown was amateur standard. Edinburgh will need a siesmic turnaround to make the top 8


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