Scarlets v Edinburgh: visitors squeeze out first win of season

Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill calls for Gregor Townwsend to add WP Nel to Scotland line-up after dominant scrum performance

Edinburgh picked up their first win of the season at Scarlets. Image: © Craig Watson -
Edinburgh picked up their first win of the season at Scarlets. Image: © Craig Watson -

Scarlets 3

Edinburgh 6

THEY all count! In fairness, this match was actually a better spectacle than the final score-line suggests, and both teams deserve credit for that given the horrendous conditions, which were even worse than they had been at the same venue – Parc y Scarlets – the day before for the international match between Wales and Scotland.

For Edinburgh, this will be a huge boost given that they were on a six-match losing streak coming into the contest. They are still languishing fifth in PRO14 Conference B, but they are now equal on points with fourth-placed Scarlets, and just three points behind both Cardiff Blues and Connacht who share second/third place in the table.

“We’re delighted with the win, we’ve actually been playing okay but the results haven’t fallen our side, so we worked a lot this week on our game management because we knew the weather would be poor, and I thought we did that really, really well,” said head coach Richard Cockerill.

“It could have gone either way, but we battled hard, and when you work hard good things happen. I thought we probably deserved to win. We’ve got a good squad, with a few guys missing on international duty or injured, but this will give us some confidence because we have broken that losing streak. We’ve got a big game next against Cardiff so we’ve got to regroup and get as many people fit [as possible] for Monday night at Murrayfield next week.”

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Edinburgh were forced into three early changes. James Johnstone, who had only come on to the bench when Eroni Sau dropped out of the starting line-up because his wife had given birth, replaced Chris Dean after a head knock on four minutes. WP Nel ended up as man of the match as part of a dominant scrum after taking over from Murray McCallum on eight minutes. And new signing Andries Ferreira came on for his debut at lock in place of Andrew Davidson on 16 minutes.

Despite that disruption to their personnel, Edinburgh had the bulk of the pressure in the first half. Scarlets threatened with several counter-attacks, but they suffered increasing problems in the scrums, where Nel quickly made his presence felt.

There is absolutely no doubt that Edinburgh benefitted greatly from a penalty count which was 20 to four in their favour, largely thanks to their set-piece domination.

“He’s been away [in the Scotland camp] all week and he only joined us last night, which means he had done no training at all, so that just showed his commitment and quality, and how much it means to play for this team,” was Cockerill’s glowing tribute to Nel’s contribution afterwards, although it should be noted that loose-head Pierre Schoeman had more than a little to do with it, too.

“I’m delighted for him because he’s had a couple of tough weeks. He wants to play for Scotland but he has been on the outskirts for that, and it’s a timely nudge for Gregor Townsend to out him in the team,” Cockerill added.

Captain Henry Pyrgos opted for the set-piece a couple of times when the visitors were awarded penalties, and it looked like the tactic had paid off five minutes before half-time when the referee ruled that Nel had touched down from close range, until TMO review of the incident showed that the tight-head had lost the ball forward.

Advantage was being played, however,, and Edinburgh resumed the onslaught. Scarlets changed their looseheads in a bid to end the concession of scrum penalties, to no avail. But just as a yellow card or even a penalty try began to seem inevitable, the visitors opted to go for goal when awarded another penalty in the closing seconds of the half. Jaco van der Walt was on target to make it 3-0 at the break, but the three points had been taken at the expense of a very possible seven.

And those three points were cancelled out after 10 minutes of the second half when Scarlets won a scrum penalty and stand-off Angus O’Brien nailed the long shot at goal to square the match.

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Stung by that rare scrum-time lapse, the visiting pack set about exacting ruthless revenge, powering to two more scrum penalties in quick succession, with Scarlets replacement tight-head Werner Kruger being sent to the sin-bin for collapsing the second of those set-pieces just 30 seconds after coming off the bench.

That created the platform for Van der Walt to restore Edinburgh’s narrow advantage with his second successful penalty of the night on the hour mark, and the visitors’ chances of securing a much-needed first win of the season received another boost just a minute later when Scarlets second-row Josh Helps was red-carded for a high tackle which was more reckless than malicious but deserving the sanction because it produced a sickening clash of heads that brought an early end to George Taylor’s involvement in the contest.

That meant Scarlets were down to 13 men for the next nine minutes, and down to 14 for the remainder of the match after that, but they rallied well and dominated the final quarter, with a particular highlight being a searing breakout from his own 22 by lively home centre Paul Asquith, which culminated in Edinburgh frantically defending on their own line for several minutes before replacement hooker Dave Cherry got his hands on the ball at a ruck to win an absolutely crucial penalty.

Scarlets kept their foot on the gas, and a vital interception from Henry Pyrgos stymied another promising attack with just three minutes to go, and from there the visitors held on for a much-needed victory.

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Teams –

Scarlets: J McNicholl; T Morgan, S Hughes, P Asquith, S Evans; A O’Brien (D Jones 63), D Blacker (W Homer 77); P Price (R Evans 38), T Davies ( D Booth 67), J Sebastian (W Kruger 57), J Helps, M Jones, U Cassiem (E Kennedy 63), J Morgan, S Kalamafoni. Unused substitutes: J Price,  T Prydie.

Edinburgh: J Blain; G Taylor (C Shiel 61),  M Bennett, C Dean (J Johnstone 4), J Farndale; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos (captain); P Schoeman, M Willemse (D Cherry 61), M McCallum (W Nel 8), L Carmichael, A Davidson (A Ferreira 17), M Bradbury, A Miller, N Haining.  Unused substitutes:  J Bhatti, C Boyle,  N Chamberlain. 

Referee: C Busby (Ireland).

Scorers –

Scarlets: Pen: O’Brien

Edinburgh: Pens: Van der Walt 2.

Scoring sequence: 0-3 (half-time), 3-3, 3-6.

Yellow card: Scarlets: Kruger.

Red cards: Scarlets: Helps.

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  1. Agreed with TR, a very enjoyable, proper arm-wrestle of a game. What stuck out for me other than the obvious – Nel’s prowess in the scrum – was how the atmosphere on the pitch turned for the worse when Dan Evans came onto the pitch. I’m not sure whether he was peeved at witnessing his predecessor being demolished in the scrum or from the result of the previous day but he was overly emotional when he came on. Nel doesn’t strike as the gloating type and appears to quietly go about his business but for Evans it was seemingly personal. Nel let his actions do the talking as Evans barely fared better than the previous loose-head. Niggle and being pumped up is healthy but Evans was rather crossing the threshold IMO. And the red-card was 100% merited- that was deliberate.

  2. Possibly the most enjoyable game I’ve watched since rugby returned!

    The scrum was excellent and it was particularly pleasing to see WP Nel causing havoc.

    • The Edinburgh scrum has been a weapon for a while, we have some outstanding scrummagers. The only thing that surprised was is choosing to kick the first penalty though I can see why. We had them under the cosh and the referee had to be on the verge of giving a yellow card and a penalty try. Anyway a successful trip to Wales.

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