Edinburgh 10-11 Leicester
Scorers: Edinburgh – Try: Grant. Con: Tonks. Pen: Heathcote. Leicester – Try: Munipola. Pens: Burns, Mele.
The Tigers fielded something very close to their strongest XV and almost certainly their biggest with five islanders, three of whom brought a muscular presence to the back division.
The visitors enjoyed the whip hand in the first half while Edinburgh got up to speed but the home side bossed possession and territory in the second forty and Tigers only won thanks to a penalty kick from replacement scrum-half David Mele with the very last play of the game.
It was cruel fate for the Edinburgh set scrum which conceded those crucial three points because the smaller home pack had contained the giant Leicester eight and even taken the fight to them on occasion.
Edinburgh won two first-half penalties at the set scrum and they went forward more than once, good going considering it was loosehead prop Rory Sutherland’s first professional game.
Sadly for Sutherland, Edinburgh only had one prop on the bench and the former Gala player was required to play the entire eighty minutes. By his own admission fatigue played its part and the last few scrums when Edinburgh were rocked backwards before conceding that vital last penalty.
“Last year I was an engineer [in Gala],” Sutherland revealed after his Edinburgh debut had the cognoscenti purring. “I would have been working for eight hours and then going to pre-season, so doing it for five days a week all day has been different. It’s been good.
“My time at Gala helped a lot. I got a lot of game time last year and did all right for myself. George Graham [the Gala coach] helped me a lot technically and we had a strong pack last year which helps. It helps to be dominating sides to get noticed.”
On Saturday afternoon Sutherland had to cope with the out-sized Samoan Logovi’i Munipola who is listed as weighing 125 kg (19-and-a-half stones) and that looks conservative. Sutherland somehow kept a lid on his international opposition in the first half when both were fresh.
“I guess it comes down to the technical side of things,” Sutherland explained. “I’ve been training for two months, I’ve been in the gym a lot and I’ve got my strength up a but but, again, I guess size does help, but technically you’ve got to be right and I’ve been working on that a lot.”
Sutherland’s personal ding-dong with Munipola was the story of the match in miniature. Leicester almost invariably took the shortest route to the Edinburgh line and attempted to bully their way over. Edinburgh knocked them back and took the legs of the big men in a solid defensive display. The fact that the Tigers’ only try came courtesy of Munipola himself was misleading. While the big fella is tricky to stop from short range, the space was only made by a sublime off-load from sometime England stand-off Freddie Burns. Elsewhere flanker Hamish Watson was busy and aggressive against his former club, winning the man-of-the-match award. Ollie Atkins was a fruitful supply of possession and Cornel du Preez has an edge that Edinburgh badly need if they are to shed their reputation as everyones’ favourite opposition.
If the coaching staff have any concerns it probably revolves around the lack of a cutting edge in the backs where the midfield looks better in defence than attack, although it’s early days yet.
Edinburgh dominated the second half but rarely looked like scoring even if the rain made life easy for the defence.
Most importantly two players put their hands up for the No 10 shirt. But for injury, Greig Tonks might have got a cap for Scotland at pivot last season and, after a shaky start, he looked inventive and elusive, his midfield break led to Edinburgh’s only try, a lineout drive dotted down by flanker Roddy Grant. In the second half Tom Heathcote entered the fray and brought his habitual composure.
Having been without a first- class stand-off for years Edinburgh suddenly have two with New Zealander Phil Burleigh still to arrive from the Otago Highlanders. Competition is the key and this squad now has some depth to it.
Edinburgh: McLennan (Bezuidenhout 40, Tonks 53), Fife, Dean (Dominguez 25), Strauss (Beard 40), Visser (Thompson 40), Tonks (Heathcote 40), Kennedy (Hidalgo-Clyne 40); Sutherland, Ford (c) (Hilterbrand 55), Andress (Berghan 40), McKenzie (B Toolis 66), Atkins (A Toolis 66), Grant (Richie 55), Watson, De Preez.
Leicester: Morris (Williams 61), Scully, Tuilagi, Bai, Goneva; Burns, B Youngs (Mele 53), Sio (Brugnara 40), Ghiraldini (T Youngs 40), Mulipola (Balmain 40), de Chaves, Parling (Wells 15), Croft (Crane 50), Salvi, Barbieri.