EDINBURGH created history in thrilling fashion last night as they became the first Scottish team to reach a European final by overwhelming Newport Gwent Dragons at BT Murrayfield.
Alan Solomons’ side will now face either Greig Laidlaw’s Gloucester or Exeter Chiefs, who play in the second semi-final tonight, in the European Challenge Cup final at Twickenham Stoop on Friday, 1 May.
Yet another virtuoso display from exciting young international scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne was at the heart of a spirit-lifting night for Scottish rugby played in front of a crowd of more than 8,000 at the national stadium.
The 21-year-old No 9 contributed 25 points to the Edinburgh tally, with a try on top of four penalties and four conversions, with further touchdowns from Stuart McInally, Tim Visser, Ben Toolis and Dougie Fife securing a handsome victory.
Edinburgh had not had their troubles to seek in the week building up to the game as they were hit by a spate of injuries off the back of a dispiriting 34-3 home humbling in the league.
The Dragons came into the game with a much more settled line-up and boosted by some impressive recent results and it was they who struck the first blow when stand-off Dorian Jones nailed a 45-metre penalty in the fourth minute.
Edinburgh’s response was good and they began to steadily get the Welshmen on the back foot. After a series of assaults on the visitors’ 22 the pressure told and the Dragons’ star man Taulupe Falatau, the No 8 with 45 Wales caps and one Lions appearance, was sin-binned for infringing close to the posts in the tenth minute.
Hidalgo-Clyne made no mistake with the penalty to level the match.
The home side continued to make hay with the extra-man advantage and the big crowd began to get more vocal as a combination of ragged play by the visitors and some intelligent kicking from Phil Burleigh kept Edinburgh on top.
In the 16th minute the reward came when blindside Stuart McInally’s dynamic burst saw him cannon through the Dragons’ defence and jink away to score, Hidalgo-Clyne adding the extras.
The lead was pegged back to just four points moments later when Jones knocked over a contentious 35-yard penalty but Edinburgh were soon back knocking on the Welsh door. After going through the phases with potency and purpose a gap opened on the left and Tim Visser was at his predatory best to finish off.
Hidalgo-Clyne was unlucky to clip the outside of the post with his conversion but the score was now 15-6 and the mood inside BT Murrayfield increasingly buoyant.
However, with Faletau back on the field, the Dragons were keen to show they were not going to let a game of such magnitude simply slip away from them and Jones knocked over another penalty to cut the gap to within a converted score.
But the Edinburgh scrum-half’s trusty left boot made no mistake from 20 yards six minutes from the interval and a nine-point cushion was restored.
The home side finished the half in the ascendancy as Roddy Grant sparked a counter attack which almost had Hidalgo-Clyne scampering clear but he got caught in two minds and fluffed a kick through as he bore down on the full-back with support inside on the left.
Nevertheless, Edinburgh’s dominance in the scrum yielded profit soon after as a penalty was milked from the rapidly retreating Dragons eight and the little No 9 made no mistake this time to bank a healthy 21-9 lead going in at the break.
You felt the Dragons had to strike early after the restart and that is precisely what they managed to do as Edinburgh’s struggles to stem the driving maul – so evident in last Saturday’s loss to Munster – resurfaced. The Dragons rumbled Edinburgh back to their line then broke off for prop Brok Harris to bundle over. Jones gobbled up the extras and it was a five-point game.
Hidalgo-Clyne then missed a difficult penalty kick at goal to increase the feeling of unease but Edinburgh found some go-forward just when they needed it and got their own mauling game up and running.
After driving the Dragons deep into their own territory, Visser and Burleigh shared an intricate exchange of passes which ended with the stand-off stopped just short of the line. As Edinburgh piled in there was an infringement from scrum-half Jonathan Evans and he became the second recipient of a yellow card.
This, you felt, was Edinburgh’s moment to drive home the critical blow and, despite giving away a free kick immediately after the sin-binning, they struck when Toolis charged down full-back Jason Tovey’s kick in the Dragons’ 22 and chased down the ball just inside Murrayfield’s generous in-goal area. Hidalgo-Clyne converted then added a penalty to open up a 15-point gap as numerical advantage paid dividends once again.
The moment thoughts could officially start to turn to the Twickenham Stoop final came on the hour-mark when the home pack again annihilated the visiting scrum and Hidalgo-Clyne sniped away to run 30 yards and under the posts for a thrilling and surely decisive score, which he duly converted.
The Dragons could not hold a rampant Edinburgh at bay now and centre Sam Beard’s dashing break down the right put
Scotland wing Fife in for the fifth home try, which was again converted with aplomb by Hidalgo-Clyne.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: McInally, Visser, Toolis, Hidalgo-Clyne, Fife; Cons: Hidalgo-Clyne (4); Pens: Hidalgo-Clyne (4).
Dragons: Try: Harris; Con: Jones; Pens - Jones (3)
Edinburgh: J Cuthbert; D Fife, S Beard, A Strauss, T Visser; P Burleigh, S Hidalgo-Clyne; A Dickinson, R Ford, WP Nel, A Bresler, B Toolis, S McInally, R Grant, M Coman. Subs: N Cochrane, R Sutherland, J Andrews, F McKenzie, C Du Preez, N Fowles, T Heathcote, T Brown.
Dragons: J Tovey; T Prydie, T Morgan, J Dixon, H Amos; D Jones, J Evans; B HArris, T Rhys Thomas, D Way, J Thomas, C Hill, N Crosswell, J Benjamin, T Faletau. Subs: R Buckley, P Price, L Fairbrother, M Screech, I Gough, L Jones, A Hewitt, G Rhys Jones.
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