WHILE Glasgow steamed to a record win in Wales, Edinburgh slid to their ninth straight defeat despite a brave second half display at Murrayfield.
Edinburgh: Try – Nel; Pens – Hunter, Leonard; Con – Hunter.
Cardiff: Try - Paterson; Pens – Patchell 4.
This was a forgettable encounter between two sides that justified their lowly league positions, Cardiff struggling after the swingeing budget cuts and loss of players last summer and the paralysis that has struck Edinburgh this season manifest in reams of effort and enterprise being thwarted by poor skills in the crucial final third of the field.
With the SRU having sacked Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley this week, but asked him to continue for the remaining eight games, the team is in the strange position of having to rediscover confidence with a management already stamped with failure. The contrast between the two Scottish teams has hardly ever been more stark.
And a dejected Bradley summed up this match succinctly, when he said afterwards: “Our attitude was excellent but our execution was poor and despite that pressure we were unable to get the killer score.”
Big Fijian No8 Netani Talei opened the game by charging over the top of diminutive Cardiff winger Harry Robinson, and the attack swiftly brought the game’s first penalty, but young fly-half talent Gregor Hunter fell short with the first of what proved to be three costly missed kicks on the night.
Cardiff, meanwhile, brought little more to the table and almost dropped out of the game by the hour-mark in the face of Edinburgh determination, but they had the nous to grasp points from virtually every sortie into the home half with 19-year-old fly-half Rhys Patchell earning the ‘Man of the Match’ award largely for the accuracy of his kicking, from hand and at goal.
Patchell opened the scoring with the first of four penalties after five minutes and after a good period of Edinburgh pressure foundered on a fine tackle by Garin Evans, the Blues skipper, Patchell chased a long kick upfield to turn defence swiftly into attack, and duly turned that into another three points from a subsequent ruck as Cardiff got to the covering Lee Jones quicker than the winger’s teammates.
Hunter had the chance to half the deficit after 15 minutes, but was wide. The goal-kicking accuracy might not have mattered had Edinburgh’s handling been more pin-point, as they continued to set the tempo with returning internationalist Nick de Luca providing a strong lead in the backs and Stuart McInally taking it on up front. The flanker broke the Cardiff defence and set Geoff Cross free into the 22, with good work by the forwards then creating an overlap on the right.
But David Denton was culpable again of a lack of composure ruining his fine work, his desperation to turn pressure into a try leading him to cutting out two teammates with a long pass, which disappeared over wing Dougie Fife’s head and into touch.
The hosts lost lock Grant Gilchrist with just 22 minutes played, Sean Cox coming off the bench, but a good Edinburgh scrum then brought a penalty which Hunter converted, only for the hosts to ruin it immediately by conceding another penalty from the next restart, gifting Patchell another three-pointer.
Both teams strived to kick the ball and force each other into mistakes, and when you combined the number of errors with the number of kicks, it added up to a woefully dull game to watch, the kind that sucks the enthusiasm from bodies and leaves one feeling the Murrayfield cold.
Hunter converted one penalty from another two attempts with just over five minutes of the first half remaining, but poor defence then invited Cardiff to respond and they drew inspiration from centre Richard Smith waltzing past players on the left to take the Blues into the home 22, and then Patchell similarly dancing away from Cox as if he wasn’t there before putting in Michael Paterson for an easy score on the right. Patchell’s conversion put Cardiff 14-6 ahead at the break and one wondered what words of encouragement the departing Bradley might find in the break.
Half-time replacements Hamish Watson and WP Nel injected a fresh belligerence in attack, and with De Luca continuing to seek space chances began to emerge wide out. The centre put Lee Jones away and while he was caught by the full-back Jason Tovey, ball was recycled well and sped across field where Dougie Fife burst down the right touchline, and with Cardiff at sixes and sevens the pack drove on and Nel applied the long-awaited try finish.
Hunter converted and suddenly, nine minutes into the second half, the hosts were back in the game, at 14-13 behind. Harry Leonard came on for Hunter, who was struggling to connect with his runners and whose three missed kicks proved costly, and swiftly put Edinburgh in front thanks to another fine Edinburgh scrum, and penalty from 20 metres in front of the posts.
Now things were looking up for the Scots, but the same old frailties refused to go away. Just as Edinburgh began to almost wholly dominate possession and territory, Denton and Jones tireless workers in attack, one loose ball was snapped up by Cardiff deep in their half, fed a counter-attack over halfway and led to a penalty, which Patchell converted to nudge Cardiff 17-16 in front with 12 minutes left on the clock.
Edinburgh continued to make all the running in the final stages, with Leonard speeding up the attack and Tom Brown injecting pace from deep, but they lacked the skill at key moments to convert the pressure. Cardiff’s scrum was being driven inside itself, but it survived, and two lineouts in the final two minutes provided perfect opportunities for Edinburgh to set up a match-winning drop-goal, but both of Andy Titterrell’s throws were pinched at the front, summing up the sense of futility in the Edinburgh camp this season.
Edinburgh: G Tonks; D Fife, N de Luca, B Atiga, L Jones; G Hunter, R Rees; J Yapp, S Lawrie (capt), G Cross, G Gilchrist, I van der Westhuizen, D Denton, S McInally, N Talei
Subs: S Cox for Gilchrist 22mins, H Watson for van der Westhuizen, W Nel for Cross, both 40, H Leonard for Hunter 55, A Titterrell for Lawrie, A Jacobsen for Yapp, both 67, T Brown for Atiga 72.
Cardiff: J Tovey; O Williams, R Smith, G Evans (capt), H Robinson; R Patchell, L Jones; T Filise, M Breeze, S Andrews, M Paterson, J Down, J Navidi, T Young, R Copeland
Subs: L Reed for Copeland, A Pretorius for Young, both 55mins, S Hobbs for Filise, B Bourrust for Andrews, both 58, C Czekaj for Tovey 60, K Dacey for Breeze, A Walker for Jones, both 66, Filise for Hobbs 77.