IT MAY not have been the most flamboyant 80 minutes of European rugby, but, as far as Edinburgh are concerned, it was mission accomplished as they maintained their 100 per cent Challenge Cup record and moved five points clear at the top of Pool 3.
London Welsh 6-24 Edinburgh
Scorers: London Welsh – Pens: C Elder (2). Edinburgh – Tries: D Fife, R Grant. Con: G Tonks. Pens: S Hidalgo-Clyne (4).
But while Alan Solomons’ side can feel happy with securing four wins in a row in a Pool containing two Top 14 teams, the coach surely won’t be happy at not taking a bonus point away from two games against London Welsh.
As much as they huff and puff, and provide moments of competitive rugby, the Exiles have yet to win a game this season and have conceded four or more tries in eight of their nine Aviva Premiership outings and two of their four Challenge Cup games.
While Edinburgh may be kings of the castle at this stage, the lack of bonus points could still come back to haunt them in their final two games against Lyon and Bordeaux-Begles.
“The first thing is always to win the game. That’s important and that’s what we did,” said Solomons.
“What was also very positive was the way in which our tight five dominated the scrum, line-out and maul. They were very good and meant we were buried in their territory in the second half. We have to continue to work on those areas in order to improve even more, because we didn’t make the most of our dominance in terms of tries in the end.”
Just as they had done at Murrayfield in Round 3, the Exiles piled into their tackles, the rucks and mauls, but never provided a cohesive threat on the front foot.
As tricky as they proved to overcome, there was never any real thought, or prospect, of Edinburgh losing. Perhaps that was what stopped the visitors from being more ruthless.
Two second-half tries took Edinburgh clear of any threat, but they were never accurate enough in the kill zone to get the bonus point.
It means the maths over the next two rounds will be fascinating.
Edinburgh travel to Lyon, whom they beat 25-17 at home, in Round 5 before they end their campaign at home against Bordeaux-Begles.
Their opening-round victory in Bordeaux set up their unbeaten run, but Solomons will know better than anyone that anything could happen in that game if the French side have a sniff of going through.
Bordeaux-Begles have scored twice as many tries as Edinburgh and will no doubt be eyeing up a hatful against London Welsh in Round 4 next month to take the full five points. If they can do that, then it could be a winner-takes-all clash at Murrayfield a week later.
Both Edinburgh tries came in the second half as their mounting pressure began to tell on the home tacklers.
Scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne kept the scoreboard ticking over for Edinburgh in the first half as he kicked them into a 9-3 interval lead with three penalties.
Chris Elder replied with one for the Exiles.
Both sides lost a player to the sin-bin in the first-half – Andries Strauss for Edinburgh and Lachlan McCaffrey for the Exiles – and London Welsh lost a second player before the end of the game when veteran lock Dean Schofield infringed.
Hidalgo-Clyne and Elder swapped penalties at the start of the second half before Scotland wing Dougie Fife made the decisive move of the game as he ran in the opening try of the game after 56 minutes.
A second try for the visitors came with three minutes left on the clock when back row man Roddy Grant crossed for a try converted by Greig Tonks.
“If we can keep on developing a winning culture and mentality then the confidence in the squad will grow. If we win our next two games, then we’ll be through to the quarter-finals,” added Solomons.
“That would be a significant step forward for this group to reach the last eight in a European tournament, but we know it is still a massive challenge. We have Benetton Treviso and Glasgow Warriors, a team packed full of Scotland internationals who are among the best sides in Europe at the moment, to meet before then.
“What these wins in the Challenge Cup have proved is that our strength in depth is much, much better than it has been in the past. We are playing without a number of international and front-line players, yet we are still managing to put in some strong performances.”
London Welsh: E Kear; C Elder, A Awcock (N Reynolds 57), T May (P Weepu 66), N Scott; O Barkley, R Lewis (P Rowley 68); E Aholelei (R Reeves 40), N Morris (N Vella 61), T Vea (B Cooper 68), D Schofield, J Down (M Corker 61), P Browne (B Pienaar 51), C Kirwin, L McCaffrey
Edinburgh: J Cuthbert; D Fife, M Scott, A Strauss (A Beard 76), T Visser; G Tonks, S Hidalgo-Clyne (G Hart 76); R Sutherland (G Shiells 32), N Cochrane (J Hilterbrand 68), J Andress (WP Nel 68), A Bresler (F McKenzie 66), B Toolis, T Leonardi (S McInally 48), R Grant, M Coman (Stuart McInally 19-25)