Timisoara Saracens15 – 59 Edinburgh: Forwards take centre stage

Edinburgh Rugby acting head coach Duncan Hodge. Picture: SNS/SRU.
Edinburgh Rugby acting head coach Duncan Hodge. Picture: SNS/SRU.
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The first task for any new coach taking over a struggling team
is simply to get them winning. So, that is one thing crossed off Duncan Hodge’s to-do list after taking over Edinburgh.

Two games, two wins, 104 points, 15 tries: if that doesn’t get the confidence juices flowing, nothing will.

Hodge, pictured, got lucky. His start in the job could not have been more gentle with two weak teams first up, but the fact that Edinburgh completed both jobs with a bit of panache and style, that they proved Glasgow Warriors do not have a monopoly on Scots playing handling rugby, is bound to lift spirits in the changing room and stand alike. Just as important, the big players he needs to perform for him if the club is to move up a level and start beating teams like Harlequins, who they play on Saturday in the European Challenge Cup, pretty much all delivered, even the ones like John Hardie who arrived in Timisoara under-used and rusty.

Top of that list was Viliame “Bill” Mata, the Fijian sevens specialist, who finally got his first start for the club and duly delivered a try and an assist in the opening two moves of the game. The pace slowed a bit after that but he still had time to claim a second score for himself, lay on the first of Nasi Manu’s hattrick of scores with a wrecking ball charge from stolen line out ball and demonstrate a Fijian’s love of tackling.

“Bill? He did all right. He did not look too bad did he?” said Stuart McInally, the captain who also claimed a hat trick on the day. “Twenty minutes into the game I spoke to him and said ‘come on Bill, let’s see you carry a bit more’ and the next thing he is setting Nasi [Manu] up in the corner. No problem. I will take that.”

Overall, McInally, while not blind to the disorganisation that hurt their efforts in the second half, was satisfied not just with the result but with the way it was achieved. Maybe they were not as ruthless as they might have been but this was still win that set club European records for winning margin, points scored, tries scored and conversions.

“We wanted to be absolutely relentless,” he added. “We feel that the best teams would come here and put 80 or 90 points on these boys. Especially after the start we had, we wanted to do that. I was disappointed that we didn’t.

“I also understand the frustration in the backs. Speaking to them there was a lot of space. We wanted to stick to structures but there were a lot of options and maybe we were trying to score too quickly in the second half, that is why some offloads went awry. On the whole, we were happy enough.

“The tries were something we spoke a lot about. We did not want to give them a way in to the game. We thought they would base it on their physicality in the forwards so I am pleased that we matched that. Disappointed we conceded a couple of tries, but I don’t want that to take the gloss off the good work we did.”

It was an odd game statistically in that after Michael Allen, the wing, capitalised on Mata’s first-minute break with McInally acting as link man, all the remaining tries went to the forwards.

Yes, all McInally’s trio of touchdowns came at the back of rolling mauls as the forwards got back to one of their strengths over the last couple of seasons, but the rest were all the result of the big men running and handling as though they were backs. Manu’s three came from Mata’s break, supporting a backs move, and taking a quick penalty to catch the defence napping. Not your stereotypical brute-force-and-ignorance kind of scores.

They are going to have to step up the level again on Saturday when they play Harlequins in the same competition, but they will also have a less experimental side out. “Harlequins is going to be a much sterner task, let’s make no mistake about that. There were a lot of new faces in our pack though,” said McInally. “We had a few changes and it was nice that it all went really well.”