EDINBURGH claimed a dramatic last-gasp victory in their first RaboDirect PRO12 match at Murrayfield to warm the hearts of the home support, but the performance left a lot to be desired.
The hosts failed to make the most of spells on top in the first hour and lost their way in the final quarter, their efforts late on resembling a punch-drunk boxer staggering around the ring. But the Dragons lacked the edge to take advantage in an uninspiring early-season encounter that only underlined the work Alan Solomons faces to turn Edinburgh into contenders.
The head coach acknowledged: “We made it difficult for ourselves but the main thing for us was to squeeze out a win from a difficult game and get some confidence. We made too many mistakes in the second half.
“Our pack is operating well and the scrum is very good, but there are areas in all parts of our game that we have to work on.”
With both sides opting to put boot to ball frequently, two early penalties brought the opening points for Harry Leonard and Jason Tovey, the respective stand-offs, inside the first five minutes.
Sean Kennedy, impressively quick and slick with his passing at scrum-half, was nearly streaking away to an early try, hacking a loose ball deep into the Dragons half and showing good pace, when called back for an Edinburgh knock-on. And then the Dragons turned to a Lion, Toby Faletau, sprung from the bench when flanker Nic Cudd was forced off injured to add some impetus to the back row.
Tovey and Leonard both missed penalties as the game continued to ebb with little flow before Edinburgh drove themselves into good positions with two penalties kicked to touch and good mauls off the lineouts rolling the Dragons back on their heels. Both times the Dragons were penalised for illegally stopping it, but rather than keep the pressure on, knowing that a third penalty was certain to bring a yellow card for the visitors, Edinburgh took the points with a Leonard penalty to go 6-3 up and regroup heading into the second quarter.
Talei was a potent force for the Dragons, showing his ability to make yards with bruising runs, and another player off-loaded by Edinburgh at the end of last season, Richie Rees, provided a spark in the one dangerous attack the Dragons mustered in the first half-hour, but just when they had the home defence stretched across their 22 full-back Dan Evans lost a knee-high pass forward.
When summer signing Nikki Walker got involved in the Edinburgh attack, there was a genuine danger, and Nick de Luca also threatened with typically rumbustious runs in midfield, but they could not find a finish. Just when the Dragons seemed vulnerable, Roddy Grant and Greig Tonks crossed paths and let them off the hook.
The momentum was building late in the half, however, with Walker sweeping across from his right wing to add support, and the all-action David Denton driving into the Dragons underbelly. They could not squeeze over the line, despite several attempts, but won another penalty which provoked Irish referee Dudley Phillips to finally free the yellow card that had been burning a hole in his pocket and send blindside flanker Lewis Evans to the sin-bin.
Edinburgh this time shunned the three points, but their ambition was thwarted by a scrum penalty. With Solomons striving to keep it simple while he develops new systems of playing, these are crucial moments in a match for Edinburgh but they lacked the decisiveness and cohesion to turn the screw.
The Scottish side started the second half with more dynamism, and after one sweeping crossfield attack foundered on the left they went for it again five minutes later and this time Denton just got the ball away to Tim Visser, for the big winger to open his season’s account in the left-hand corner, Leonard superbly converting before the Dragons returned to 15 men.
That Edinburgh are still some way short of their prime of past years was evident as they stepped back off the pace and let Dragons come at them, resulting in a try for scrum-half Rees, after the Welsh outfit showed the hosts what they should have done in the first half with lineouts close to the try line.
Edinburgh still led, 13-10, heading into the final quarter, but the Dragons had the bit between theit teeth, too many Edinburgh players were falling off the pace, nervy in their decision-making and lacking cohesion and direction, and one thing vital in a simple game-plan is conviction.
The Dragons lacked real threat and despite Edinburgh being strong in the scrum referee Phillips never seemed to get a grip of regular collapses, but the visitors were livelier late on and were rewarded with a match-levelling penalty, kicked by replacement stand-off Kris Burton, the Italian internationalist, with four minutes remaining. And then we had the late drama.
Leonard fell short with an ambitious drop-goal, but the Dragons kicked the 22 drop-out straight out, handing Edinburgh a scrum on the 22.
And they finally took their chance, the pack scrummaging the Dragons back five metres until the Welshmen collapsed, resulting in a penalty.
Leonard kept his cool to send his kick between the uprights with the last act of the game to snatch a first league win.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Try: Visser; Pens: Leonard 3; Con: Leonard. Dragons: Try: Rees; Pens: Tovey, Burton; Con: Tovey.
Edinburgh: G Tonks; N Walker, D Fife, N de Luca, T Visser; H Leonard, S Kennedy; A Dickinson, R Ford (capt), W Nel, G Gilchrist, I van der Westhuizen, D Basilaia, R Grant, D Denton. Subs: S Cox for Basilaia 40mins, H Watson for Cox 56, S Hidalgo-Clyne for Kennedy 62, W Blaauw for Dickinson 65, M Tait, J Cuthbert.
Dragons: D Evans; M Pewtner, P Leach, J Dixon, H Amos; J Tovey, R Rees; O Evans, TR Thomas (capt), D Way, A Jones, M Screech, L Evans, N Cudd, N Talei. Subs: T Faletau for Cudd 10mins, H Gustafson for O Evans, F Chaparro for Way, both 45, K Burton for Tovey 62, J Evans for Rees 64.