A top-of-the-table finish beckons for Edinburgh in their European Champions Cup pool after they became the first away side this season to win at the Twickenham Stoop. Not just that, but despite the misleadingly close final score, they were by far the better team throughout.
There was maybe a little self criticism as they gave away two tries in the last two minutes to allow Harlequins to claim a losing bonus point, but everybody there knew that by then the result of the game had been decided in the Scots’ favour.
The only worry was that the return of WP Nel, pictured, to action after three months out with a neck problem lasted only 27 minutes before he took a forearm to the head making a tackle on George Merrick, the home lock, and wobbled off the field obviously concussed.
Since he has six days before the final pool game against Timisoara at Myreside and the fastest the head injury assessment can be done is six days, he is a doubt for that. Does Vern Cotter risk him in the Scotland squad on the basis of less than half an hour’s game time? Probably.
None of the negatives should be allowed to undermine a thoroughly dominant performance by Edinburgh where they showed resolution in defence, an ability to explode into action when the attacking chances came and a tactical awareness to dictate the game.
“I’m absolutely delighted. The boys did exactly what we had talked about doing, and got the tries when they got the chances. They played some great rugby out there,” said head coach Duncan Hodge.
“The boys are actually quite disappointed, in the huddle they were talking about the tries they conceded at the end, but that should not take away from the overall performance. The defence was good and they took their chances.”
After the fireworks of their previous meeting in Edinburgh, when the Scots raced into a lead, handed it back to the English opposition and then reclaimed it to win by a single point in a game with 11 tries, it was probably the tactical side that pleased Hodge most
There was a lot of kick-tennis, with Duncan Weir in charge, even though Harlequins dominated possession in the opening quarter with a couple of chances with mauls that only showed the strength of the Edinburgh defence.
In the end, the early scoring was confined to a penalty apiece for Weir and Tim Swiel, his opposite number at stand-off, to leave the sides deadlocked at the end of the first quarter.
Edinburgh were looking dangerous when they did have the ball, however, and showed their new powers of counter attack when turnover ball gave them a chance to move it into space and they took full advantage.
Bair Kinghorn made the initial inroads with a break down the wing, with Chris Dean in support. When he was stopped, the forwards took over as Ross Ford and Cornell Du Preez both made dangerous contributions before the ball ended with Fraser McKenzie in midfield.
The lock, preferred to Grant Gilchrist for his place in the team, sized things up, brought out an outrageous sidestep and had an easy run to the line.
They might have got a second a few minutes later when Damien Hoyland, the wing, made a great break on the opposite side of the field with support inside. Weir was stopped just short and Harlequins flanker James Chisholm was sin binned for slowing the ball down.
It was a perfect position for Edinburgh but they made a mess of the line out and Quins escaped the threat with only remaining scores of the half another exchange of penalties between Weir and Swiel to leave the Scots a try up at the break.
The English stepped up the pace at the start of the second half but ran into Edinburgh’s cast-iron defence and got nowhere. Instead it was the Scots who were creating chances, one engineered by Sean Kennedy, the scrum half, spoiled when Danny Care, his opposite number, got back to spoil his neat kick through.
There was nothing the home side could do about the second with Cornell Du Preez creating the break and the speed of Hamish Watson and Allan Dell, the flanker and prop respectively, catching out the home defence as Dell went over.
A further penalty from Weir and the result was in the bag so that even the final surge from Harlequins with Mat Luamanu, the lock, and Joe Gray, the hooker, both getting tries, did not matter.