THIS was a result Edinburgh scarcely deserved, and it was hardly the performance head coach Alan Solomons had been looking for to prove to his doubters that this team are really on the right path under his tutelage – but it was a positive. And after the ignominies of recent weeks it might just provide the injection of positive energy that the squad so badly needed in order to shake off their unwanted tag as one of the Pro12’s perennial soft touches.
Solomons said during the week he was pleased with how his players had taken on board the lessons of last Sunday’s 62-13 thrashing in South Wales and encouraged by the verve with which they had trained in the build-up to this match – but the distinct impression from the first minute of action last night was that they had still not shaken themselves awake from the slumber which saw them concede 26 points in just 22 minutes against the Ospreys
They were seven points behind before the match had entered its 56th second after Tom Heathcote was badly wrong footed by a bobbling grubber kick from Gareth Owen, and visiting winger Harry Robinson pounced to ground the ball over the line. Rhys Priestland slotted the conversion.
Murrayfield tends to be a soulless bowl of concrete when Edinburgh play their home games there. The mathematics of the situation does not work. Three thousand people scattered around a venue built for 67,000 equals a complete lack of atmosphere. But for much of last night the mood seemed even more lethargic than usual.
Full credit should be given to those hardy souls who strained their larynxes manfully during that opening 40 minutes trying to create a buzz but their efforts were largely in vain.
Another reason Edinburgh should be concerned about the funereal ambience is that every thump of the fist on table and expletive hurled into the air from inside their technical box reverberates around the West Stand – and last night the home coaching team spent a large chunk of their time getting very agitated by what they saw happening on the park, especially during the middle chunk of the first half, when their team surrendered a succession of cheap penalties which led to them being buried deeper and deeper under an avalanche of pressure.
A long-range Heathcote penalty after a collapsed scrum in the eighth minute had provided temporary hope for the capital outfit, but two minutes later a Tomas Leonardi offside allowed Scarlets back on to the front foot. Priestland spurned at least three kickable penalties, with the visitors sensing a try was there for the taking – their profligacy here would come back to haunt them.
Edinburgh’s plight wasn’t helped by the fact that Cornell du Preez was sent to the sin-bin for ten minutes after pulling down a lineout.
Scarlets should have scored a try when Liam Williams did the hard bit by sidestepping Jack Cuthbert, but then inexplicably flicked the ball behind his back as he dived for the line; and they came close again in the 22nd minute when Edinburgh once again failed to deal with a kick through and Robinson swept in for what looked certain to be his second score – only for the ball to slip from his grasp as he skidded over the whitewash.
Scarlets eventually got their reward for their unrelenting domination in the 31st minute when Rob Evans took a quick tap penalty on the Edinburgh 22 and set off like a hare at the greyhound. Although he was felled by a desperate tap tackle, the livewire scrum-half was able to offload to Williams, who had built up enough of a head of steam to carry two men over the line with him.
Just when it seemed like there was no way back for Edinburgh, they finally produced an attacking move worth getting excited about, with Tim Visser going over unchallenged on the left after the home team had swept towards the line with irresistible dynamism.
Astonishingly, that meant that the gap was only seven points at the break, although John Andress did his best to make the second-half challenge facing the home team that little bit harder when he blundered up the side of a ruck and tackled scrum-half Davies in an offside position to concede a penalty. Fortunately for the prop, Priestland hit the post with his long-range effort.
Not that Andress learned his lesson. Within four minutes of the start of the second half, he had been sent to the sin-bin for not rolling away at a ruck, and Priestland rubbed salt into the wound by helping himself to the three points on offer.
Edinburgh did manage to keep pace with the Scarlets in this period in which they were at a numerical disadvantage, with Heathcote slotting his second penalty after an offside was spotted by Irish referee John Lacey.
And as the match meandered slowly towards its conclusion, the hosts finally began to build up a head of steam. By rights, they shouldn’t have been anywhere within reach of the Scarlets but they had kept the scoreboard ticking over, and when Phil Burleigh burst onto a short ball and blasted his way over the line it meant a Heathcote conversion would square the match.
The stand-off did what was asked of him, and then he even had a chance to steal the win at the death when Scarlets were penalised for holding on to the ball at the deck, but his effort from the halfway line fell short.