THROUGHOUT this first season under Mike Blair, Edinburgh’s rich promise has been evident. Against the strongest of opponents, however, their inexperience can be all too evident at times, and it certainly was at the DHL Stadium in Cape Town as they lost this URC quarter-final.
They were level at the break, and were still just about in contention going into the frantic few final minutes. Their defence was excellent for the most part, while in attack players such as Emiliano Boffelli and Mark Bennett again showed just how dangerous they can be given half a chance.
But the Stormers were even more dangerous in offence, and what is more Edinburgh made it easy for them at times with a couple of avoidable errors, notably the loose offload from Blair Kinghorn which presented the South Africans with a simple try after just a couple of minutes. Even so, while there are flaws in Edinburgh’s make-up which will need to be ironed out before they can make the step up from play-off qualifiers to title contenders, they and their head coach have every right to be pleased with the progress they have made in relatively short order.
“First of all, I’m really proud of the effort that our guys put in,” Blair said after the three-tries-to-two defeat. “This is not an easy place to come and play a quarter-final in South Africa against a top-quality team. I thought we acquitted ourselves pretty well. A couple of moments in there that had they swung the other way, it would have gone down to the last five minutes.
“We were still in the game with five minutes to go. Whether we deserved to be I’m not too sure, but we put enough really positive stuff out there to look forward to next season with pride.
“To be in a situation like that against a quality team away from home is pleasing. But there’s obviously a little bit of disappointment in there as well. We need to get better, but that foundation of heart, spirit and playing for the jersey was certainly in evidence.”
The Stormers’ opening score was initiated by a break from loose forward Hacjivah Dayimani, who was stopped just short of the line when Kinghorn intercepted an attempted pass. But then the Edinburgh stand-off failed to find Chris Dean with an offload behind his own line, and Warrick Gelant seized on the loose ball to touch down. Manie Libbok converted.
Boffelli got Edinburgh off the mark with a penalty after Stormers captain Steven Kitshoff offended. But after Kitshoff himself came close to claiming his side’s second try, Edinburgh gave away a penalty and Libbok scored via an upright to take his team’s tally to 10.
The visitors had another chance to go for goal minutes later when the Stormers offended again, but this time they went for touch and were rewarded for their enterprise when Dave Cherry finished off from the line-out drive. Boffelli converted to draw the teams level again with quarter of an hour played.
The Stormers continued to present more of a threat in open play, but at times they were too impatient when trying to force an opening. After half an hour they looked sure to regain the lead when Gelant passed off the ground to Herschel Jantjies just yards from the line, but Darcy Graham got back to intercept.
Then Edinburgh suffered a big blow when No 8 Magnus Bradbury was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on his opposite number Evan Roos. It was a marginal call, but replays showed it was a correct one.
The 14 men ran down the clock well in what was left of the first half, and kept up the sensible, disciplined approach in the early minutes of the second. But then, just as Bradbury was itching to get back on to the pitch, the Stormers struck from deep inside their own half.
Six or seven of them were involved in the play, stretching the Scots defence to breaking point, and in the end it was Ruhan Nel who touched down for the try after Seabelo Senatla provided the scoring pass. Libbok added the two points again, and Edinburgh knew they had an uphill battle on their hands.
A collapsed scrum was another warning sign for the visitors, and although nothing came from that award, another offence minutes later was punished by Libbok. That penalty from the stand-off made it 20-10, and the Stormers had one foot in the semi-finals.
Edinburgh needed to start playing more high-risk rugby to have any chance of staging a comeback, but before they came anywhere close to scoring they conceded another try. A midfield guddle saw several players fail to control the ball, but in the end Roos seized on the loose ball to run in his team’s third touchdown of the afternoon. Libbok’s hasty conversion attempt went wide, but the Stormers were still more than two full scores ahead.
An immediate reply was needed – and Edinburgh got it when Henry Pyrgos finished off between the posts from a Luke Crosbie break. Boffelli added the two points, and it was game on again at 25-17.
With a dozen minutes left, a third penalty from Libbok stretched his team’s advantage to 11 points. Edinburgh kept pressing in search of a score, and the last few minutes might have become very interesting indeed had Deon Fourie not got back to mark a kick ahead by Boffelli. Once that move was snuffed out the Stormers were able to wind down the clock in relative comfort.
They now go through to a home semi-final against Ulster. Edinburgh just go home, to reflect on both the considerable progress they have made this season, and on the work that remains to be done if they are to keep up their heartening improvement.
Stormers: W Gelant; S Senatla, R Nel, R Pretorius (S Mngomezulu 4, G Masimla 70), L Zas; M Libbok, H Jantjies; S Kitshoff (captain, B Harris 74), J Kotze (A Venter 63), F Malherbe (N Fouche 66), S Moerat (A Smith 68), M Orie, D Fourie (N Xaba 54), H Dayimani (E van Rhyn 73), E Roos.
Edinburgh: E Boffelli; D Graham, M Bennett, C Dean (J Lang 64), D Hoyland; B Kinghorn, H Pyrgos (C Shiel 69); P Schoeman (H Courtney 78), D Cherry (A McBurney 69), W Nel (L Atalifo 68), J Hodgson (M Sykes 48), G Gilchrist (captain), L Crosbie, H Watson, M Bradbury (B Muncaster 54). Unused substitute: J van der Walt.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland).
Stormers: Tries: Gelant, Nel, Roos. Cons: Libbok 2. Pens: Libbok 3.
Edinburgh: Tries: Cherry, Pyrgos. Cons: Boffelli 2. Pen: Boffelli.
Scoring sequence (Stormers first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-3; 10-3; 10-8; 10-10 (h-t) 15-10; 17-10; 20-10; 25-10; 25-15; 25-17; 28-17.
Yellow cards –
Edinburgh: Bradbury (35mins).