Edinburgh chalked up their fifth successive win in all competitions in a sparsely-attended game at Murrayfield on Saturday evening, scoring six tries in this Guinness Pro14 victory against Southern Kings, three of which arrived in the opening ten minutes.
Darcy Graham grabbed two of those opening three scores in the space of four minutes and full-back Dougie Fife grabbed the opener before the front-row union cashed in. Rory Sutherland rumbled over from short range to secure the bonus point on the 40-minute mark and Simon Berghan followed him over the try line after the break.
The final score came from reserve hooker Cameron Fenton, who was only on the pitch thanks to a late call-off from Dave Cherry who was hit with an unspecified lurgy late on.
The visitors had plenty of possession in the second quarter especially but never had the tools to chisel a try out of the granite with which Edinburgh construct their defensive line.
Statistics can be misleading but the tackle count tells you everything you need to know about Saturday’s match.
Edinburgh made 114 with Ross Ford and Luke Crosbie to the fore, while missing 13. The Kings made 158 while missing 41. Very few teams miss 41 tackles and still manage a win... vanishingly few.
The Kings have won one match all season and whatever this loss did to their fragile confidence it gave Edinburgh a timely boost ahead of two of the biggest games in the club’s history, as Fraser McKenzie noted.
“I think it was a professional performance coming off the back of four big games in the Christmas period,” said the club captain after playing his first league match since September due to injury.
“There was a lot of pressure on us to perform and I think we did that. It could have been a banana skin, the game where guys become complacent. I think that was the next step for us, to become a consistent side, but we are on that track.”
It was suggested to McKenzie that facing Toulon away and Montpellier at home in the Champions Cup over the next two weekends would pose Richard Cockerill’s side an awful lot more of a threat than the Kings.
“Of course, but that is why Cockers rotates his squad,” he replied.
“We were purely focused on this game. He [Cockerill] is very much of the mind set that you take each game as it comes. Obviously in the back of everyone’s minds you’ve got Toulon next week and Montpellier the week after.
“Two huge games at the club and we are in quite a favourable position going forward. It’s up to us. It’s in our hands.”
It will be harder in Toulon’s Stade Mayol if only because Saturday’s match could hardly have been any easier as the Edinburgh forwards bullied the Kings at the set scrum and picked their pocket at the sidelines.
McKenzie took over as captain from Magnus Bradbury in the middle of last season and the down-to-earth character personifies the change in Edinburgh’s attitude since Cockerill took the reins. He is now the conscience of the club.
Did he imagine when he took the captaincy that one year on Edinburgh would be sitting pretty in second place in their conference and just one win away from a probable place in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup?
“I always knew the team had the ability,” said the big Dunfermline-born lock. “There are a lot of quality players here. People talk about Glasgow. Glasgow have a great squad but so do we. It’s just changing that mindset about the club. It’s probably been like that for the past decade and it’s just, sort of, steer that ship in the right direction.
“We are getting there. We’re not there yet and Cockers will say that as well. But we are moving in the right direction and we are taking every week as it comes. Obviously you’d hope to be fighting for all competitions by the crunch time.”
McKenzie has timed his return to full fitness nicely, giving Cockerill options although he will do well to break up the Toolis/Gilchrist combo that has impressed in recent weeks.
Presumably he’d fancy a crack at the three-time Champions Cup winners this weekend?
“Oh, dearly, yeah, but that is up to the coaches,” he replies. “I am registered. I will train hard this week and push as hard as I can if selected and if not I will be there to support the boys.”
After a difficult period that included a shoulder operation before the latest injury, the 30-year-old McKenzie signed a contract extension last week with Edinburgh that will keep him at the club for another two years. He insists the decision was an easy one since he had no desire to move and, instead, Edinburgh are going places.
The skipper says that he was actually declared fit for the first Glasgow game but, he points out, there is a big difference between being run-up-and-down-the-field fit and being front-five-forward fit with everything that entails. Saturday evening’s 80-minute gallop is just what he needed before the challenge of facing two of the giants of French rugby in the space of just six short days.
“On Saturday there was pressure because you are favourites to win,” mused McKenzie. “Last week there was pressure on you because Glasgow are deemed the number one team in Scotland. There was pressure on us to go there and prove a point last week and at the weekend there was rotation in the squad. Can we back that performance up? And this week it’s the same thing. We go to Toulon, world beaters, that is the way it is. We have to go out and establish our game, put our game on the table.”