A BATTLING, backs-to-the-wall performance took Edinburgh back to the top of PRO14 Conference B as they made it five out of five wins in the league. Richard Cockerill’s team scored two tries to nil, but it was their defence, above all, that won them the game, especially in a second half in which Scarlets had around 75 per cent of the territory.
Both touchdowns, by Duhan van der Merwe and Matt Scott, came in the first half. Edinburgh were unable to score again after the break, but in difficult conditions Scarlets could add only one penalty in the second 40 to the two they had converted in the first half.
The hard-fought victory puts Edinburgh three points clear in the table again, but this time ahead of Munster, whose big win over the Southern Kings on Friday night took them to the top temporarily. Scarlets are down to third, three points further back, with both Connacht and Cardiff breathing down their necks.
Scarlets had to make two late alterations to their squad because of injury, with winger Corey Baldwin and tighthead prop Samson Lee dropping out. They were replaced by Ryan Conbeer and Werner Kruger respectively, while Javan Sebastian and Steve Cummins came on to the bench.
There was a late change to the spectating arrangements, too, as the North Stand was closed for health-and-safety reasons and fans were relocated to the South and West Stands. Conditions were bright if still blowy when the game kicked off, but soon worsened with the return of the rain.
Edinburgh began in a positive frame of mind, and took the lead through Duhan van der Merwe after seven minutes. Nick Haining began the counter-attack by fielding a high clearance then passing to Matt Scott, and the centre set Van der Merwe off on an attack down the left wing. Several defenders got close to the winger, but none came close to stopping him in his tracks, and Jaco van der Walt converted.
Dan Jones opened Scarlets’ account with a penalty after the visitors were penalised for offside, and the home team began to come into the game more after having been pinned back early on by some judicious kicking from Henry Pyrgos. But Edinburgh had already proven to be adept at disrupting the home team’s lineout, and they were just as effective in defence when Scarlets built a multi-phase, ball-in-hand attack midway through the half.
A head knock ended hooker Dave Cherry’s involvement, but it did not end Edinburgh’s superiority in the scrum, as his replacement, Mike Willemse, made just as weighty contribution. But Scarlets continued to have far more possession, and five minutes from time half-time Jones slotted another penalty to reduce the visitors’ advantage to a single point.
However, after hardly figuring in attack since the opening try, Edinburgh hit back within a minute of that score. A solid scrum platform led to Van der Merwe breaking the first line of defence, and he put Matt Scott in for try No 2, again converted by Van der Walt.
Having been playing into the wind, Edinburgh turned round with confidence high thanks to that eight-point lead. It was Scarlets who began the second half more assertively, though, and when Pierre Schoeman was penalised, Jones made it three out of three with the boot.
The home team’s kicking was more intelligent in the second half than it had been in the first, and they were particularly successful in exposing the erratic nature of Eroni Sau’s defence. One particularly guddled attempt by the Fijian winger to field a kick led to a Scarlets scrum five metres out, but Schoeman won a vital turnover off the setpiece.
Fraser McKenzie had barely been on the field for 10 minutes when he went off with a shoulder injury, and John Barclay came off the bench to a warm reception from the supporters of his former club. Scarlets continued to press for the equalising try, and came desperately close to getting it when they got their pack got the push on an Edinburgh scrum, but a knock-on ended the chance. The game remained in the balance going into the closing minutes, but Cockerill’s team remained composed when it mattered most, with a vital turnover from Bill Mata in the dying minutes typifying the virtues which gave them the win. It was the first time Scarlets had lost at home since last April – which just happened to be the last time Edinburgh had come calling.
Scarlets: A O’Brien; R Conbeer (P Asquith 58), K Fonotia, S Hughes (captain), S Evans; D Jones, K Hardy (D Blacker 77); P Price (R Evans 41), T Davies, W Kruger (J Sebastian 59), L Rawlins (T Ratuva 48), S Lousi (S Cummins 69), A Shingler, J Macleod, U Cassiem.
Edinburgh: D Hoyland; E Sau, M Bennett (G Taylor 69), M Scott, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt (S Hickey 57), H Pyrgos (captain); P Schoeman (J Bhatti 72), D Cherry (M Willemse 28), W Nel (P Ceccarelli 64), L Carmichael, G Gilchrist (F McKenzie 51, J Barclay 59), N Haining, L Crosbie, V Mata.
Referee: F Murphy (Ireland).
Scarlets: Pens: Jones 3.
Edinburgh: Tries: Van der Merwe, Scott. Cons: Van der Walt 2.
Scoring sequence (Scarlets first): 0-5, 0-7, 3-7, 6-7, 6-12, 6-14 (h-t) 9-14.