EDINBURGH Rugby were restored to full strength for the visit of the Scarlets last night and they brought to a halt the long run of league losses, even if they did it the hard way.
After opening up a 20-6 lead at half-time, Edinburgh allowed their visitors to edge their way back into contention and the score was tied
It was 23-23 going into the final ten minutes with home flanker Ross Rennie in the sin bin. That was when skipper Greig Laidlaw rescued his side as he has done so often with a tricky little penalty half way to the left touchline and 15 metres out. There was an immense sense of relief among the sparse crowd when the kick sailed over and it only made Scarlets’ Stephen Jones bizarre miss from straight in front a few minutes earlier all the more costly.
Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley agreed that his team had got a monkey off their backs with the win. “Yes, absolutely,” he said. “It was looking very comfortable at half-time and it was looking awful with about 15 minutes to go. Obviously on balance we’re very happy that we got the win.
“The important elements were the composure we had in the first half, which was very pleasing, and the character we had in the second half to get the win. The character is there anyway, we just need to get the composure for as much of the 80 minutes as we can against Toulouse on Saturday.”
Just one week ahead of their Heineken Cup showdown with Toulouse, the men in black sent out a message that they should not be taken lightly, not even by the four-time champions of Europe. The home side were slick in the backs while the forwards ran hard and straight up front. David Denton caused chaos in the Scarlets’ defence whenever he got the ball in his hands, which was way too often for the visitors’ liking. At one point Ross Ford ran right over the top of Fijian prop Decon Manu, which doesn’t happen too often.
The lineout spluttered on occasion but the Edinburgh scrum was a sight to behold, utterly dominant throughout as the international trio won two set- piece penalties and a penalty try in the first half and a crucial turnover after the break when the match was finely balanced.
Where Edinburgh lost the battle was in the kicking for territory where Rhys Priestland has 20 yards on Laidlaw, and the home side occasionally struggled at the breakdown where the Scarlets constantly edged around the side and made life miserable for Mike Blair.
The referee waved away several appeals for penalties but eventually showed a yellow card to Manu just before the half-time break with the crowd roaring approval. One minute later Matthew Rees joined him in the sin bin after the referee deemed that the Scarlets skipper had deliberately slapped down a scoring pass under his own posts. The result was a penalty to Edinburgh who wisely opted for a set scrum. The Scarlets pack engaged reverse gear and collapsed under their own sticks, giving the referee little choice but to award the penalty try that gave Edinburgh breathing space at half-time.
Priestland and Laidlaw had exchanged three early penalties with two going to the home team before the first try came on 20 minutes and it went to the hugely impressive Denton. Laidlaw kicked a penalty to touch, Edinburgh’s big men drove on with the blond barnet of their No 8 highly visible, before a few plays later Rennie popped an inside ball to Denton who stretched out a long arm and dotted down against the post padding for a legitimate try. Laidlaw’s conversion gave Edinburgh a handy 13-3 lead after one quarter of the match and this had been extended to 20-6 at the break, courtesy of that penalty try.
With a two-man advantage, Edinburgh should have done better at the start of the second half but the closest they came to scoring was when Blair was tackled into touch five metres short of the line. The Scarlets, newly restored to full strength, worked their way back into the match. Priestland slotted a penalty after Geoff Cross was pinged at a breakdown and, three minutes later, winger Andy Fenby finished off a sweeping move under the posts to make Priestland’s conversion a certainty.
Laidlaw got three back almost immediately but the mood music had changed and Hitchcock’s violins were now strident, at least in the ears of the Edinburgh supporters. Jones, on for Priestland missed a penalty from in front of the posts but when Rennie was binned on 65 minutes the wind was firmly in the visitors’ sails.
Jones made the half break around the Edinburgh 22 and Jon Davies barrelled over from short range. Jones’ conversion tied the match, Laidlaw stepped up to do the necessary at the other end of the field and still the home fans had to endure eight fraught minutes before they could enjoy the win.