Edinburgh lost their first match on Richard Cockerill’s watch and the visitors scored four tries to the capital side’s two but that won’t have unduly worried the Englishman who had fielded a scratch side, actually two scratch sides, since he rang the changes at half-time, against what looked like Sale’s strongest XV. Instead of a result, the new coach was looking for a statement of intent from his players and he got that much.
The game was a typically scrappy pre-season affair with a host of mistakes from both sides but most of that rust will be gone by the time the phoney war is over. What Edinburgh displayed was their traditional flair in attack allied to a new desire and bloody minded attitude in defence which, if replicated in their day job, will nudge them up the Pro14 ladder.
We expect physicality from flanker John Hardie, who duly delivered, but when the likes of Phil Burleigh and even Duncan Weir join in you know that Edinburgh’s new defence coach Calum McRae has added some teeth to the team.
Edinburgh displayed good line speed with some real snap in contact, two defenders driving the ball carrier backwards on more than one occasion. Sale looked rattled by this unexpected aggression although the visitors did score a good second-half driving try which Edinburgh were powerless to defend. For their part the home team’s mauling game never got out of first gear. In truth it never got into first gear.
On the down side that same Edinburgh defence was constantly caught standing too narrow, allowing Sale time and space in the wider channels where they made acres of ground and threatened almost every time the ball went wide.
The most obvious example was 27 minutes into the first half when Edinburgh set up to defend a Sale scrum five metres from the home line with full-back Glen Bryce the widest defender fully 20 yards narrower than Sale’s widest attacker Byron McGuigan, the former Glasgow Warrior, who predictably ran a score into the corner following a miss-pass from stand-off AJ McGinty. Sale’s other try came from Springbok scrum-half Faf De Klerk who nipped around the blind side of a breakdown and dotted down before Weir could stop him. But after conceding two tries the Edinburgh attack sprang into action and scored just seven minutes after the re-start after Cockerill changed the bulk of his team at the break.
Luke Crosbie was just one of several youngsters who showed up well in the second half. The flanker made the initial break up the middle of the park and when the ball was recycled Dougie Fife, pictured, picked a sublime angle off full-back Blair Kinghorn, the winger unstoppable from short range.
That score seemed to light the blue touch paper because another barrelling Crosbie run almost inspired Edinburgh to their second score in almost as many minutes. That effort failed when prop Murray McCallum threw a Hail Mary pass within sight of the opposition line but the fans crammed into Meggetland hadn’t long to wait. Edinburgh won a five metre scrum and the big men made it pay by milking a penalty try at the set piece to take a 20-10 lead.
There was time left on the clock and Sale’s big men exposed a soft centre to Edinburgh’s defence in the final quarter by scoring one well worked try from a driven lineout thanks to Samoan international TJ Ioane and another short-range effort from the giant Russian replacement Andrei Ostrikov to make this one safe despite Ioane spending the last few minutes on the naughty step and Edinburgh finishing in the ascendant.
Afterwards Cockerill said: “It was our first hit out and I was really pleased with the physical parts of the game and there were some good performances from the young players
“We were playing to win the game under pressure. I thought we did really well.”