IF SCOTTISH rugby fans are a patient lot it is only because they have had no other choice. After 19 years of professional rugby a Scottish pro-team has finally made it to a European Cup final, and never mind that it is the Challenge rather than the Champions Cup. It may have been Europe’s secondary competition but don’t try telling that to the players because the very first scrap of the evening occurred after exactly one minute and 14 seconds of the game had elapsed.
This was one of Edinburgh’s most convincing performances of the season, clinical, ruthless and intelligent, even if they may need to improve the discipline to see off whoever wins today’s other semi-final.
Whatever you say about this Edinburgh side, at least they learn a lesson. Last weekend they were mauled to within an inch of their lives by a powerful Munster. The big men made amends last night, winning all the important battles while still managing to lose a try early in the second half to... yes, another rolling maul. At least Edinburgh earned their first points of the evening from a rolling maul which also saw Taulupe Faletau carded, one of three Dragons to see yellow on the night.
Stuart McInally did enough to suggest that he could still be that ball-carrying breakaway we all thought he was. He scored a brilliant try after good approach work from the big men and Tim Visser’s first-half try came at the end of an exhausting series of pick and drives by the Edinburgh eight which tested the legs and lungs of the Dragons.
In the set scrum Edinburgh enjoyed total dominance, even if referee JP Doyle pinged Alasdair Dickinson at the very first engagement. The Edinburgh prop was penalised for wheeling the scrum when it just looked like he had his man on toast and was determined to rub it in. Still, the scrum earned Edinburgh several important penalties and a second-half try for Sam Hidalgo-Clyne who scooted in from 30 yards.
Hidalgo-Clyne and his half-back partner Phil Burleigh gave the home side the control and composure they have sometimes lacked this season. We have come to expect excellence from the scrum-half and we were not disappointed as he was a threat all night. He created Visser’s try with a neat flip out the back of is hand, claimed that second-half try and his passes fizzed across the attacking line, leaving the opposition defenders to guess which black shirt was going to pluck the ball out of the air.
Stuart McInally showed he could still be the ball-carrying breakaway we all thought he was.
At one stage he was slightly too clever for his own good. After a brilliant line break Hidalgo-Clyne attempted to drop the ball on to the outside of his left foot to kick ahead...and missed it altogether.
Outside of him Phil Burleigh was a revelation at 10, so good you couldn’t help wonder why he hadn’t played there all season. The centre/stand-off mixed up the plays, almost scored a try in the second half himself and his kicking game repeatedly found acres of space in behind the Dragons’ wingers. Time and again the visitors turned and chased balls that sailed over their heads and rolled into touch. Quite why they didn’t drop 10 metres further back is anyone’s guess but it was tactical naivety at best.
Chasing the game in the second half the Dragons looked no better than any other side that goes wide before they earn the right to do so and Edinburgh fed off their many mistakes. Edinburgh progress to the final and not a moment too soon.
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