Southern Kings 25
EDINBURGH’s seven-game winning run came crashing to a halt in a dramatic denouement to what had been a desperately dour contest at the Madibaz Stadium. Richard Cockerill’s side appeared to have the victory wrapped up when substitute Ross Ford put them eight points ahead with the same time to play, but two late tries by the Kings snatched the game away from them and sent them into the PRO14’s three-week break with only a losing bonus point.
There were some extenuating circumstances in the defeat, notably a refereeing display which failed to adequately punish the Kings’ obvious failings in the scrum, but overall Edinburgh have to accept responsibility for a sub-standard showing that they must only hope will not prove costly at the end of the regular season. They remain third in what is shaping up to be a desperately close fight for the play-off places in Conference B, but a win would have taken them clear of second-placed Benetton as well as opening up some daylight between themselves, Scarlets and Ulster.
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Cockerill has complained several times this season of officials’ failure to reward a dominant pack, and he did so again after this disappointment. He kept things in context, however, by acknowledging that his team had to take responsibility for a defeat which could prove costly come the end of the regular season.
“You try and be positive around your set piece, but we’ve seen over the season that you don’t get the reward that you’re meant to,” the head coach said. “The penalty count in our favour was pretty high, but, that’s what you have to deal with.
“We had multiple opportunities in the first half to score, and we didn’t, and in and around that there is some refereeing where he just penalises and penalises and penalises them, but doesn’t take anyone away from the field. But we made our own errors, and turned the ball over too much.
“Nobody but ourselves to blame. We got what we deserved in the end.”
This was only the Kings’ second win of the season, following their triumph over Glasgow back in September, and although it was scarcely merited, they should receive considerable credit for the spirit they showed – above all in defence, where in the second half they withstood one Edinburgh onslaught of more than 30 phases. And while they appeared content to waste time and play negatively for much of the match, they gained the reward late on for some excellent creativity on the counterattack – albeit after James Johnstone had been harshly sinbinned.
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Notwithstanding that enthralling end to the game, on the whole this was a poor contest. Both sides’ play was error-riddled from the off, with Edinburgh’s early mistakes coming from an overthrown lineout by David Cherry and a spilled catch from Dougie Fife. The resultant possession eventually led to the Kings opening the score through left-winger Bjorn Basson, who chipped over the top and beat Henry Pyrgos in the chase to ground the ball. Full-back Masixole Banda converted, and even at that embryonic stage of proceedings there were signs that this match might be go the way of Glasgow’s game on the same ground back in September unless Edinburgh proved able to impose some control on some things.
They did not take too long to reply, however, gradually gaining ground through some patient pressing before Pyrgos cleverly switched the direction of attack to pass to Chris Dean. The centre sliced through an off-balance defence to score, and Jaco van der Walt levelled things with the two points.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 12)
Second half profligacy
But that was as good as it got for the visitors in the first half. The Kings went ahead again after 10 minutes through a Banda penalty after Pierre Schoeman was penalised for not rolling away, and the same player stretched their lead with another three points two minutes before the break after Van der Walt had held him back off the ball.
In between times, Edinburgh should have scored another try, but George Taylor knocked on in the tackle while reaching out to touch down. With advantage having Edinburgh took the scrum five metres out. They were awarded a free-kick and scrummed again, then twice took the same option after the Kings were penalised. Finally, with a penalty try surely in the offing, Bill Mata picked and drove from the base of the scrum – but was penalised for holding on in the tackle.
On a warm afternoon in Port Elizabeth there were no doubt elements of fatigue in such examples of poor decision-making, but it had still been a poor first half from Cockerill’s side. They might well have gone further behind in stoppage time, too, but a long-distance drop-goal effort from Banda fell short.
Edinburgh dominated the opening stages of the second half, and, with Pierre Schoeman driving his opposite number into the ground, the scrum penalties against the Kings continued to mount up – long past the point when the referee should have reached for a card. It was on balance an error to go for a lineout from one penalty rather than taking another scrum, but a try should nonetheless have resulted. Instead, on the 31st phase of play, Pietro Ceccarelli knocked on right on the Kings goal-line and the chance was gone. It was a curious moment, as both the Italian tighthead and referee Dan Jones thought a try had been scored – but a little help from the TMO produced the right decision.
With Ford on for Cherry just before the hour-mark, Edinburgh again mounted a sustained offensive. The substitute was within a couple of metres of the goal line when CJ Velleman halted play illegally, and this time the yellow card was produced. Edinburgh scrummed again, and when the Kings pack folded, a penalty try was given.
Ten minutes further on, Ford finished off another lineout drive after Juan Pablo Socino had been tackled late. Van der Walt’s conversion made it 21-13, and Edinburgh still had time to get the try bonus – or so they must have thought. Instead, Johnstone was binned for being off his feet and killing the ball, and when the drive from the penalty was stopped short, the ball was sent out to the backs and Baden Pretorius finished off.
For all their shortcomings, the Kings can be inspired when they know they have a chance of victory, and they got the winning score two minutes from time. Substitute Meli Rokoua produced the sort of offload of which Bill Mata would be proud, and even if it did look a shade forward, right-winger Yaw Penxe was there to run in the try from halfway.
Southern Kings: M Banda; Y Penxe, H Klaasen, T Kruger, B Basson; N Dukisa, S Ungerer; S Ferreira, M Willemse, L Pupuma, A van Schalkwyk, J Astle (C), C Velleman, M Burger, A Ntsila. Substitutes: A van Rooyen, L Mguca, A Tshakweni, S Greeff, H Brown, S Pretorius, B Pretorius, M Rokoua.
Edinburgh: D Fife; T Brown, G Taylor, C Dean, J Johnstone; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, D Cherry, P Ceccarelli, F McKenzie, C Hunter-Hill, L Crosbie, A Miller, V Mata. Substitutes: R Ford, D Marfo, M McCallum, J Hodgson, M Mason, N Fowles, S Hickey, J Socino.
Scorers: Southern Kings: Tries: Basson, B Pretorius 76, Penxe. Cons: Banda 2. Pens: Banda 2.
Edinburgh: Tries: Dean, penalty try, Ford. Cons: Van der Walt 3.
Scoring sequence: 5-0, 7-0, 7-5, 7-7, 10-7, 13-7 half-time, 13-14, 13-19, 13-21, 18-21, 20-21, 25-21.
Yellow cards: Kings: Velleman 60 mins. Edinburgh: Johnstone 75.
Referee: D Jones (Wales) .