Sharks v Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn scores twice in impressive away win

Mike Blair's side become first European side to win in South Africa during this inaugural URC season

Dave Cherry celebrates Edinburgh becoming the first European side to win in South Africa in the URC this season. Image: Edinburgh Rugby
Dave Cherry has become a key member of the Edinburgh squad in recent seasons. Image: Edinburgh Rugby.

Cell C Sharks 5

Edinburgh 21

TWO well-taken tries from Blair Kinghorn and a solid all-round performance from the stand-off helped Edinburgh become the first European side to taste victory in South Africa during this inaugural United Rugby Championship season, in a match played in monsoon conditions at King’s Park in Durban.

Given that Sharks motored into this match with the momentum of four bonus-point wins on the bounce at their backs, this was an impressive result which re-establishes Mike Blair‘s side as serious contenders for a home play-off quarter-final draw. The South African scrum dominated and the the home team had their chances to generate scoreboard pressure but lacked accuracy at key moments, whereas Edinburgh played the percentages by kicking smart, defending resolutely and going for the line with absolute conviction when the right opportunities arose.

There has been a lot of debate about the merit – or otherwise – of Kinghorn making the move from back-three to stand-off. His performance here will provide encouragement to Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend and Blair, the two chief proponents of the switch.

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“We’ve encouraged him – both myself and Gregor – to understand that he’s a real threat with ball in hand,” said Blair. “He’s a different kind of 10, so if a seam opens up, we want him to take that seam. With other 10s, you might want them to be what [defence coach] Calum MacRae calls a ‘dinner-suit 10’, so they make the pass then re-align and go again. We want Blair to take on the line, and that’s what he did in the first half, and he did it against in the lead-up to Emiliano Boffelli‘s try, so he was excellent today.”

The extreme weather made Kinghorn’s assured performance all the more impressive, and he was ably assisted by Ben Vellacott, who had a couple of flights of fancy with ball in hand but generally kicked very well.

“When we arrived, I was contemplating whether the game was going to be still on because the rain was coming down heavy and when you put your foot on the ground it was lying water,” added Blair. “So, I believe that if it had kept going like that for another 45 minutes or so it would have started to become a bit a dangerous, but the rain began to ease off and it drained away so ended up being not too bad a surface to play on.

“We said to ourselves that it was going to take something special to be the first northern hemisphere team to win in South Africa this year and when we were driving here with the rain coming down I couldn’t decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing.

“We’re obviously a team who like to move the ball around and we wanted to do that against a big Sharks pack, but we’d also spoken about how important it was going to be to show character and how important it is for us to play for the jersey, and this gave us an opportunity to do that.

“We knew that game management was going to be important, and I thought we did that really well. We controlled territory, we kicked really well, and I thought that back three – and Emiliano in particular – really dealt with the aerial threat, which is something he has been really confident at this year.

“Also, the effort in defence to get off the line and go again just shows the excellent work Calum MacRae has been doing with the team.”


Curwin Bosch passed up an opportunity to nudge Sharks into a seventh minute lead when he pulled a penalty – awarded against Magnus Bradbury for going off his feet over the tackle – to the left of the posts.

With their pack on top, Sharks looked the more likely side at this point, but they then suffered a set-back when Marius Louw found himself under Kinghorn as he jumped to collect a (crazy in the conditions) quick line-out from Vellacott and the South African centre ended up being yellow-carded (fortunate it wasn’t a red) for a dangerous tackle.

The visitors eventually took advantage after nine-and-a-half of the 10 minutes they had with an extra man when Pierce Phillips partially charged down a Sharks clearance and Hamish Watson gobbled up the loose ball, before captain Mark Bennett made light of the conditions to jink through midfield, and when he was brought down the quick recycle allowed Kinghorn to scoot through another gap in the home defence for a well-taken try, which Boffelli converted.

Bosch didn’t do his team any favours when he overshot a penalty to the corner (awarded against a collapsed Edinburgh scrum), but the big Sharks at the pit-face made light of that error by packing down again on halfway and squeezing another penalty out of the bedraggled Edinburgh eight. This time the home stand-off made no mistake with his kick to touch, and Edinburgh then invited further pressure onto themselves by coughing up a needless penalty by closing the gap before the ball had been thrown in to the line-out.

Unsurprisingly, Sharks opted for another scrum and then turned the screw, with Edinburgh fortunate that their opponents ended up being penalised for a clumsy obstruction five yards from the try line. That seemed to sum up this match for the hosts, who clearly struggled to cope with the difficult conditions.

Bosch had another opportunity to get his side off the mark with five minutes of the half to play, but he fluffed his shot at goal again, this time from almost directly in front of the posts. Edinburgh were then reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes just before the break when Italian referee Andrea Piardi lost patience with the number of infringements and sent Phillips for a spell on the naughty step, but good work by Dave Cherry to force a turnover as Sharks laid siege meant the visitors retained that seven point advantage on the scoreboard going into the break.


Sharks dominated the start of the second half and prop Ox Nche will have nightmares about his fumble of Sikhumbozo Notshe‘s offload with the line at his mercy, before the hosts finally got their reward for all that pressure when Thomas Du Toit bustled over from close-range.

However, Edinburgh retained a two-point lead because Bosch couldn’t manage to the touchline conversion, and the Scottish side then struck right back when Ben Muncaster ran back a Sharks clearance with real intent past four tacklers, Kinghorn kept momentum going, and Vellacott’s pop-pass gave Boffelli the chance to show what he can do with ball in hand.

Sharks cleared their bench, bringing on six new forwards, but that didn’t have the desired effect. In fact, they lost their way completely, and Edinburgh capitalised through Kinghorn’s second try, with the leggy stand-off showing impressive footballing skills on the waterlogged pitch to dribble a loose ball into the in-goal area and then pounce for the score.

The hunt for a bonus point win on the road was now on. They had their chances, but a couple of poor line-outs in the final minute let Sharks off the hook.

“Sharks will probably be kicking themselves because they missed some opportunities – fumbled one short close to the line and missed a couple of kicks at goal – so we are aware of that,” concluded Blair. “We’re not going to sugarcoat everything, there were opportunities for Sharks and we got the rub of the green a little bit today, but that’s not to take away from the effort and the smarts that we had in the game.

“I want us to enjoy the wins, but I don’t want us to over-celebrate them, because I believe that good teams are built on consistency of results. We’ve got a huge game against the Emirates Lions next week, which is really important for the league, so I ‘d rather not see this as a one-off game. I’d rather come back after the Lions game and say this was a successful mini-tour, rather than just focus on this individual win.

“The Lions struggled at the start of this season – I think they had only one win in their first six or seven matches – but Johannesburg is not an easy place to go and play. I think they have only one away game left from their last six games, so they are going to be eyeing play-off slots, and it is another great challenge for us, because they;’ve certainly come back into this comp really well, as have all the South African teams.


Teams –

Cell C Sharks: A Volmink (B Chamberlain 53); W Kok, B Tapuia, M Louw, M Mapimpi; C Bosch, G Williams (J Hendrikse 66); O Nche (N Mchunu 58), B Mbonambi (K van Vuuren 58), T du Toit (K Mchunu, 58), G Grobler (L Roets 58), R Hugo, S Kolisi  (J Venter 56), H Venter, S Notshe (P Buthelezi, 63).

Edinburgh: E Boffelli; R Moyano, M Bennett, J Lang (C Dean 72), F Owsley; B Kinghorn, B Vellacott; B Venter, D Cherry (A McBurney 70), L Atalifo (L de Bruin 58), P Phillips, J Hodgson (G Young 56), M Bradbury, H Watson, B Muncaster (C Boyle 62).

Referee: Andrea Piardi


Scorers –

Cell C Sharks: Try: du Toit

Edinburgh: Tries: Kinghorn 2, Boffelli; Con: Boffelli 2.

Scoring sequence (Cell C Sharks first): 0-5; 0-7 (h-t) 5-7; 5-12; 5-14; 4-19; 5-21.


Yellow cards –

Cell C Sharks: Louw (12 mins)

Edinburgh: Phillips (40mins)

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About David Barnes 3911 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. I was pleasantly surprised by Freddie Owsley. I presume he was picked thinking it would be a dry fast track and it turned out the opposite with the heavy rain. He didnt get a single run with the ball, but he held up his wing well in defence, which is what I have always assumed was his weakness and the reason he has seen so little game time since his arrival.

  2. I wonder if Kinghorn had any words for Vellacott after the quick lineout pass that led to the yellow card. It was amazing nobody drowned during that game.
    A tremendous team effort by Edinburgh in obviously very tricky conditions and all the more so because it was a rare away win in South Africa. I wasn’t always confident the officials were calling the scrum penalties correctly, but it was tricky for the relatively tall starting Edinburgh props. Bosch had apparently kicked 6 from 6 the previous weekend, but didn’t have his problems to seek in this encounter.
    From a Scotland perspective, I’d hoped to see Dylan Richardson getting a run for the Sharks, as I’ve only seen him play briefly for Scotland in the autumn, but it wasn’t to be. Perhaps he’ll be included in the trip to Argentina in the summer that I was oblivious to until recently.

  3. The conditions meant BK never let his concentration drop, and was never tempted to over-play. If he can take that mentality into every game he can be a genuinely top class player.

    Of course it helps when the 8 guys ahead of you put in an absolute monster shift against some Springbok test regulars.

    • Definitely the most consistent performance from BK that I’ve seen. If only that could be a watershed for him …. keep concentrating !!!

  4. very very good win.

    But shouldn’t get carried away. Sharks made so many unforced errors, many nothing to do with the conditions, and I think I saw the worst fly half display I’ve ever seen at professional level – he made a huge difference to the result.

    But you can only play what’s in front of you and play he conditions, and edinburgh did that much the better.
    Think that was the first time I’ve seen much of Pierce Phillips, very impressive game despite being the YC fall guy for repeated team infringements.
    And Muncaster for the next 6N and RWC squad anyone? He will tour in the summer for sure but think its now just about getting more game time at this and higher level. He looks the real deal

    • Correct re their 10, he had an absolute nightmare.
      Muncaster looks the part, Bradbury was no bad but he looks like he is playing by numbers, no natural instinctual play to go with his impressive physicality.
      Vellacott slipped over early doors and we tried to run it, both thwarted by the conditions, we adapted.
      It was a red card for the challenge in the air against Kinghorn, mental quick throw in mind.
      Lovely footwork by Bennett for the 1st try set up

  5. Edinburgh have been sensational at home and average away but this statement win feels like we’ve now arrived. Kinghorn was immense with ball in hand and when kicking. The pack fronted up and the more I see of Boffelli the more he is exactly the type of player we need. 2 wins in SA would be a stretch but you’ve got to believe. The optimism grows

  6. Boffelli absolutely superb. Edinburgh played the conditions very well, there was a point that I feared Edinburghs scrum was about to be crushed but DeBruin steadied ship. Lovely breaks by Bennett and Munchaster preceding 2 of the tries.
    With the facts that this is the 1st time a NH team had won in SA in the URC, the Sharks had several Springboks In their ranks this was a very welcome fillip post 6N.
    I really don’t think Owsley didn’t touch the ball (not his fault) has this ever happened before?

    • I think, John, it was more the departure of Shark’s Springbok front row, rather than the introduction of De Bruin, that gave us a steadier scrum platform. That and a switch of tactics of getting the ball out quickly. De Bruin, though, certainly didn’t play badly and was part of an excellent all round display.

      • Especially great to see the ball coming out so quickly, that looks to me like a tactic that could work well in other games …. and certainly nullifies the stronger scrums, our guys know they only have to weather that first push.

  7. Coach Blair sums it up well, a very good win, maybe aided by weather, and some mistakes by the Sharks. None the less and very good win that many would not have put money on. The forwards were on the rack for a while and would have waved a relieved farewell to an all Springbok front row and Siya Kolisi when they departed. after that the Edinburgh 8 were more than a match for their opponents. I thought Mark Bennet had a good game, along side the outstanding Boffelli and a generally sound defence by the backs. The weather may have limited the Sharks options, but also Edinburgh’s who looked on paper to be a side selected for an open game played at pace. Let’s celebrate this one, but next week will be a different challenge. get a second win and we can look forward to confidence to facing any opponent in the URC or Challenge cup.


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