STUART BATHGATE @ The DAM Health Stadium
SOME excellent attacking rugby in the second half more than compensated for a sluggish start as Edinburgh began their URC campaign with a seven-try victory against the Dragons. They only led 15-6 at the break, but two tries by Darcy Graham secured the bonus point and all but wrapped up the victory before further scores stretched the final margin of victory.
Mike Blair insisted he was only partially satisfied with the outcome, pointing out that his team failed to add to their tally late in the game, but he was also relieved that they had played so well in patches given their limited game time beforehand. “I was really nervous about this game because of the amount of game time that guys had had going into it,” the head coach said. “Not many had over 40 minutes from last week.
“We took a little bit of time to acclimatise to the ref – we got on the wrong side of him early on and took a while to adjust to him, which put us on the back foot.
“I am pleased with bits of it. We know we have to step up and be a bit more ruthless when we get opportunities, as we had 44 with 15 minutes left and Dragons were gutsy near the end.”
Dragons stand-off JJ Hanrahan opened the scoring with a third-minute penalty after a bright start by the visitors, then made it 6-0 with a second penalty with a dozen minutes on the clock. Midway through the half a high tackle on Chris Dean gave Edinburgh their first scoring opportunity of the night with a penalty just inside the 10-metre line, but Mark Bennett’s kick went wide.
Edinburgh needed to do something to shake things up a bit, and they did exactly that with 25 minutes played when Ben Vellacott took a quick tap penalty and sprinted deep into Dragons territory. The scrum-half was stopped five metres or so short of the line, but the forwards carried on the attack and battered away at the line for several phases.
Eventually Vellacott got the ball again, and from no more than a metre out he dabbed the ball down on the line for the opening try of the night. Bennett’s kick at goal was successful this time, putting his team in front for the first time.
The one-point lead became six a few minutes before the break. Damien Hoyland did extremely well to catch a low pass and hare on up the left wing, and this time when the forwards took it on they finished the job too, with lock Glen Young touching down. Bennett’s conversion attempt was wide this time, but at 12-6 the scoreline still had a far healthier look going into the break than it had done at the midway point of the half.
The Dragons suffered another blow just before the break when prop forward Lloyd Fairbrother was yellow-carded for a tackle off the ball. It looked like Fairbrother had done little more than allow his momentum to carry him into an Edinburgh player, but the referee deemed otherwise.
Another offence in the closing seconds of the half gave Bennett a simple chance to extend Edinburgh’s lead further, and this time he made no mistake to take the score to 15-6 at the break.
Edinburgh knew they would have to keep their foot on the gas in the second half to ensure they remained ahead. They did exactly that, with Darcy Graham scoring their third try within three minutes of the restart after a maul had set up a good position. The conversion attempt was wide again.
Scotland international Sam Skinner came on for his Edinburgh debut, and within a minute his team could have added another three points when they were awarded a penalty right in front of the posts. But they went for touch, and the decision eventually paid off when Graham picked up a loose ball on the far side and slalomed his way through a tiring defence for the bonus-point score. Bennett added the two points.
Hoyland added a fifth shortly after that thanks to a long, looping pass from substitute stand-off Blair Kinghorn. Then Kinghorn went from provider to scorer, kicking a loose ball ahead and gathering it just before the line to touch down in the corner for another unconverted try.
The Dragons tried to hit back from the restart, but they lost the ball deep in the Edinburgh half and were punished when Chris Dean ran in his team’s seventh try after Kinghorn broke clear. The conversion by Bennett took his team’s tally to 44. Edinburgh’s Nick Haining was sinbinned in the last minute after an offence at a ruck.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Vellacott, Young, Graham 2, Hoyland, Kinghorn, Dean. Cons: Bennett 2. Pen: Bennett.
Dragons: Tries: Cons: Pens: Hanrahan 2.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-3, 0-6, 5-6, 7-6, 12-6, 15-6 half-time, 20-6, 25-6, 27-6, 32-7, 37-6, 42-6, 44-6.
Edinburgh: H Immelman; D Graham (J Lang 56), M Bennett, C Dean, D Hoyland; C Savala (B Kinghorn 51), B Vellacott; B Venter (P Schoeman 41), D Cherry (S McInally 54), A Williams (W Nel 41), M Sykes, G Young (S Skinner 46), J Ritchie (captain), L Crosbie (N Haining 61), V Mata (H Pyrgos 72).
Dragons: A O’Brien (J Williams 65); R Dyer, S Tomkinson, J Dixon, J Rosser; J Hanrahan, R Williams (L Jones 62); A Seiuli (J Reynolds 71), B Roberts (E Dee 55), L Fairbrother (C Coleman 55), B Carter (J Davies 62), W Rowlands (captain), S Lonsdale, B Fry (T Basham 55), R Moriarty.
Yellow cards: Dragons: Fairbrother 39. Edinburgh: Haining 80.
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy).