EDINBURGH claimed their first win of the new era under Alan Solomons in the unusual surroundings of Hawick’s Mansfield Park, with the new head coach praising their work-rate and determination against the Premiership side.
The only try of the game came from the former Edinburgh stand-off Phil Godman, while Mike Blair was one of the stars of the visiting side, but it was the Scottish team that held the upper hand for most of the game and deserved to come out on top.
Before disappearing into the dressing room at the final whistle, Solomons said he was pleased with the work ethic of the players, who he had challenged to go out and play with a spirit that would earn the respect of the large crowd.
He said: “It was important for the guys to put the effort in tonight to start building confidence, and I believe that they did that with a lot of hard work and so I am very pleased with that.”
He is right to be pleased, but his side never looked like taking full advantage when that work had earned a dominance of ball and so there remains plenty that he will want to work on as they head into the new season away to Munster next weekend.
They worked their way into a strong position of dominance through the first half, the forwards meeting the Falcons pack head on and taking the game to the visitors. The Edinburgh defence was solid and subdued early threats from Newcastle, limiting the visitors to one missed penalty by Godman – the stand-off’s close range kick swerving violently past the post in the wind – and one trademark break from Blair, the Scottish scrum-half rolling back the years with a sublime snipe from his own ten-metre line into acres of space midway through the half.
But Edinburgh snuffed out that threat with the same accuracy which showed them to be just that bit quicker in thought and deed than the Premiership side. Their problem in attack was one typical of pre-season games, a haste to go through phases before they were completed.
Greig Laidlaw slotted two early penalties that roused the strong home crowd, but still the team lacked composure in possession. It resulted in forced passes and a handful of knock-ons that frustrated their attempts to build pressure on the Newcastle defence. However, as the half rolled on the Scottish side learned, grew more confident and began to hold onto the ball. Their reward came in the form of penalties and Laidlaw extended Edinburgh’s lead to nine points as half-time neared.
They could and should have had a try but let the Falcons off the hook when their hard work had forced them under the cosh in their own 22.
After a great charge by prop WP Nel, Edinburgh moved the attack on swiftly deep into the Falcons half with a fine kick by Piers Francis to the corner. The Newcastle lineout was not straight – home boy Scott MacLeod had been winning good ball for the Falcons in attack and defence at the touchline – handing Edinburgh a scrum five metres out. But a scrum infringement scuppered that chance.
Newcastle started the second half brighter, and only a fine scything tackle by David Denton on Falcons wing Ryan Shortland denied them in the corner. The hosts then fell a man down when Nick de Luca was yellow-carded by referee Neil Paterson for a professional foul and again only Edinburgh’s scramble defence stopped Newcastle scoring, this time Tom Catterick losing the ball in the tackle diving into the corner.
Eventually the pressure told, as Newcastle patiently kept ball and pulled Edinburgh’s defence out of shape, for Godman to expose an overlap on the left and nip in with 12 minutes of the half played. He could not convert from the touchline, leaving the Falcons still four points adrift.
Worryingly for Solomons, Edinburgh lost Izak van der Westhuizen and Tom Brown to injury, both being stretchered off, and when they did finally get their hands back on the ball it was like they had gone back to the start of the match, with rushed passes, a lack of patience and the frustration of knock-ons. It was highlighted by Greig Tonks, where the full-back superbly chased and rose to snatch a high ball from Newcastle wing Andy Higgins, but then threw the ball loose inside when floored, and allowed Newcastle to easily clear the danger.
The Falcons enjoyed a good spell in the home half, pressing the Edinburgh defence and finding the odd gap, but they lacked the crispness and decision-making at key moments to turn their possession into points and still the scoreboard read 9-5 heading into the final 15 minutes.
With Laidlaw off with a knock, Francis took over the kicking duties and slotted a fine goal from nearly 50 metres out, and the momentum began to shift again. Newcastle replaced Godman and Blair, the Scots leaving to a rousing cheer from the support, many who would remember the pair directing operations for Edinburgh not that many years ago. Denton then left MacLeod on his backside with a storming run out of his own 22, and while neither side seemed capable of seizing control in the latter stages a storming kick-chase by Edinburgh forced a penalty which Francis converted with four minutes remaining to seal a comfortable 15-5 win.