EDINBURGH stayed ahead of the Cardiff Blues in the lower half of the Guinness Pro12, scoring three tries and closing out a comfortable victory that was never in doubt from early in the second half.
Both entered the match after the international break struggling with poor league form while remaining unbeaten in their European Challenge Cup pools, and it was the home side that found the performance on the night.
It wasn’t great entertainment but it was good, structured rugby and Edinburgh were well worth their win against an ill-disciplined Cardiff who racked up three yellow cards, although Edinburgh did earn two late in the game and were down to 13 players at one stage.
Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons said: “I think the team showed tremendous courage. It was a performance of heart and attitude. It is a pity we didn’t get the bonus point. What summed it up was a scrum near our line where we got a turnover cleared. The defending on our own line was fantastic.”
In their first game since losing to Leinster 33-8 at the end of October, Edinburgh fielded a parade of players returning from injury: Tom Brown on the wing, Ollie Atkins at lock, Mike Coman and Roddy Grant in the back row. Scotland cap Matt Scott was named on the bench after six months out with a shoulder injury but moved into the starting line-up at the last moment when Sam Beard pulled out.
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Cardiff, beaten by Munster last time out in the league, gave a debut at full-back to Gareth Anscombe, a Wales-qualified Kiwi newly recruited from the Waikato Chiefs, brought Dan Fish back on the wing, and handed the captaincy to the vastly experienced tighthead prop Adam Jones for the first time.
A lively start saw Cardiff lock Jarrad Hoeata sent to the sin bin after only four minutes for throwing a punch in an untidy scuffle on the touchline with Atkins. Edinburgh took immediate advantage with a rolling maul off David Denton’s lineout take that was stopped a metre from the line, but quickly recycled ball saw the space open up for inside centre Andries Strauss to go over for the first try. Tom Heathcote converted.
Cardiff stand-off Gareth Davies settled his team’s nerves with a 40 metre penalty that hit a post to help it go over the bar.
Matt Scott’s first real touch of the ball saw him knock a few tacklers out of the way to cross the gain line and put Edinburgh in position for Heathcote to kick a simple penalty. But straight away Edinburgh conceded a scrum penalty and Davies’ attempt hit the other post, this time knocking it wide.
Edinburgh were getting the better of the forward exchanges at the breakdown and the penalty count was rising against the Blues. Heathcote thumped over a 45-metre effort to extend the home side’s lead to ten points.
But Cardiff battled their way into the Edinburgh 22 and turned the screw as the defence soaked up the pressure, surviving one video judgement that Chris Dicomidis was held up over the line and a couple of full blooded eight-man shoves by the Blues pack that failed and eventually allowed Edinburgh to clear.
Five minutes before half-time a yellow card was shown to Cardiff flanker Ellis Jenkins for persistent offending at the ruck and Heathcote thumped another 45-metre penalty that went over the bar courtesy of the inside of a post. At the other end Davies kicked a second penalty to keep Edinburgh in their sights.
Within a few minutes of the restart Heathcote had missed another long-range penalty attempt but the Edinburgh backs were beginning to shift the ball through the hands. When an attack ended in a pile-up on the Cardiff line the ball was shipped to the right and winger Dougie Fife somehow managed to squeeze through the narrowest of gaps for the try.
The conversion was good and Cardiff loosehead Sam Hobbs was the third Welshman to be belatedly dispatched to the sin bin. Edinburgh were threatening to tear Cardiff apart by now with runners suddenly finding space in midfield. They forced Davies to touch down behind his own line then went left from the five-metre scrum for the width of the pitch with the final pass being taken by winger Tom Brown for the try.
The game was over as a contest before it reached its final quarter but Edinburgh’s defence still had to be alert as Cardiff began to take risks as they sought consolation. Flanker Roddy Grant got Edinburgh’s first yellow as the game opened up and lost all shape. Then Heathcote joined him in the sin bin for deliberately slapping down a pass.
Edinburgh then conceded a simple try with centre Adam Thomas running in unopposed and Davies drop-kicking the conversion with less than five minutes to go. But it was too little, too late as the game meandered towards its ragged end with a suddenly excited crowd cheering on Edinburgh as they charged upfield, only to lose the ball in contact and be halted by the final whistle.
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