A MAGNIFICENT second-half fightback from a dozen points down breathed new life into Edinburgh’s season last night, taking them roaring back into contention for a play-off place in PRO14 Conference B. They were up against it after a first half which saw them concede two tries and fail to score, but a display that was at once disciplined and dynamic saw them win in the end with something to spare.
Matt Scott, a late replacement for the injured Chris Dean, got one of their tries, while Jaco van der Walt grabbed the other, converted both, and added two penalties. Having only won once on the road in the league all season – at Glasgow – they had the odds stacked against them at a venue where their opponents had won 29 of their last 30 home games in the PRO14. But they showed outstanding character to claim a win which takes them to within three points of Ulster, and not only boosts their own chances, but effectively knocks Scarlets out of the race for a top-three place.
“We just needed to stick in,” man-of-the-match Van der Walt said when asked after the game what the message from the coaching team had been at half-time. “It was a collective effort. We did well. It was a struggle in the beginning, but the team stuck in well.”
It certainly was a struggle as, clearly desperate to make amends for their heavy defeat at Cardiff last time out, Scarlets took the game to Edinburgh right from kick-off – and took the lead when Leigh Halfpenny put scrum-half Gareth Davies in, albeit after a suspiciously forward-looking pass from Dan Jones. Edinburgh applied some pressure for a time after that, with Hamish Watson looking particularly dangerous, but they fell further behind after 25 minutes when Jonathan Davies rounded off a swift passing move by touching down off an inside pass from Steff Evans. The speed and precision of the move may have been admirable, but it all began thanks to a moment of slackness by the visitors, who were caught unawares when Scarlets launched a counter-attack off a 22 drop-out.
Edinburgh ended the half strongly, and Scarlets captain Ken Owens was yellow-carded for an offence close to his own line, but van der Walt was off-target with the penalty. Should they have taken a five-metre scrum given their numerical advantage? Or gone to touch then driven from the line-out – which was what they had been doing when Owens intervened? There was certainly a strong argument for a more adventurous approach than a kick to goal, but at least they still had the opening eight minutes of the second half to try to benefit from Owens’ absence.
The half began badly for them when John Barclay had to go off after having taken a couple of knocks, but van der Walt belatedly opened their account with a penalty. Mistakes began to creep into their play after that, and decent attacking positions were surrendered by forward spills, but Darcy Graham was a torment to the home defence every time he got ball in hand to keep hopes of a fightback alive.
With almost an hour played, van der Walt opted to kick a penalty to touch, and the decision paid off when Watson carried off the back of the resultant maul and put Scott in for his team’s first try. The stand-off converted from in front of the posts, then minutes later gave his team the lead with an interception try from inside his own half. Halfpenny was the culprit, passing off the deck after being put down by a thumping tackle from substitute Simon Berghan. Van der Walt added the conversion, and a few minutes later took his team’s tally to 20 with a penalty from 35 metres out.
With their own play-off hopes also on the line, Scarlets went into the last 10 minutes needing a score to get within losing-bonus-point range and two scores to win. They did not even come close to one, and looked a dispirited outfit some minutes before full-time.
Asked to analyse the difference in his team’s play between the two halves, Edinburgh assistant coach Duncan Hodge said that hard work was the difference. “It wasn’t pretty,” he stated of the discussion in the dressing room at half-time. “We were just not at the races, we didn’t work hard enough, we just were not ourselves at all.”
Hodge added that the first-half failings had been summed up by the decision to go for three points from the penalty just before the break when the line-out drive was working so well, but he credited the squad with responding well after the break. “We were resilient second half and we turned it around. We just sort of shared the workload a bit.”
Scarlets: L Halfpenny; J McNicholl, J Davies, H Parkes (I Nicholas 76), S Evans (K Fonotia 66); D Jones, G Davies; R Evans (W Jones 66), K Owens (capt), S Lee (W Kruger 57), L Rawlins (J Macleod 76), S Cummins (J Helps 41), W Boyde, J Davies, U Cassiem.
Edinburgh: D Graham; D Hoyland, M Bennett, C Dean, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman (R Sutherland 75), S McInally (capt, R Ford 73), W Nel (S Berghan 45), B Toolis, G Gilchrist, J Barclay (M Bradbury 42), H Watson, V Mata.
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).
Scarlets: Tries: G Davies, J Davies. Con: Halfpenny.
Edinburgh: Tries: Scott, Van der Walt. Cons: Van der Walt 2. Pen: Van der Walt.
Scoring sequence (Scarlets first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0 (h-t) 12-3; 12-8; 12-10; 12-15; 12-17; 12-20.
Yellow card –
Scarlets: K Owens 38-48 mins.