South African loose-head Pierre Schoeman – already a cult hero at the club – was named man of the match for the second week running, despite having only played 35 minutes as a second-half replacement, having brought an energy to proceedings which allowed Edinburgh to stretch away with two Simon Hickey penalties.
Edinburgh are now seven points clear at the top of Conference B of the Pro14, at least until about 7pm on Saturday when second-placed Munster will be finishing up their game against the Scarlets. They now have three weeks off to ready themselves for a tilt at the best-ever finish in the league – and, of course, for their Challenge Cup quarter-final clash against Bordeaux-Begles on 4 April as well.
“It was as bad as we played all season, but we’ll take the four points,” said Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill. “We can have a bit of a break now and enjoy a bit of downtime.
“Cardiff were hard to break down, they defended our lineout and set-piece strikes really well, and they tested us a little bit by controlling the field position,” he continued. “We couldn’t really get a foothold in the game, but we found a way to win and that’s the key part.
“Both sets of coaches will be very disappointed in the performance, but the important stat is the win and they get nothing, which is great. We’ve got a lot of guys missing, we chose to rotate, and I think that was the right thing to do.”
Cardiff had the better of the early exchanges and took a tenth-minute lead through a long-range Jason Tovey penalty, but Edinburgh bounced back instantly when Hallam Amos caught the long restart then had his clearance charged down by George Taylor, who then gathered the loose ball and carried Lloyd Williams with him as he bustled over the line.
Simon Hickey, pictured, hit the post with the conversion, and then repeated the trick – in almost identical fashion – with a penalty 15 minutes later, before finally nailing one from a slightly more central position to make it 8-3 with half an hour played. It could have been closer, but Tovey was also off target with his second penalty opportunity, awarded against Edinburgh on 20 minutes for not closing the gap.
Cardiff edged it back to a two-point game on the stroke half-time, when Nick Haining ripped the ball back on to Edinburgh’s side at a ruck directly in front of his own posts and referee George Clancy judged that he was off his feet, with Tovey kicking the simple penalty.
It continued to be a cat-and-mouse type of contest. Edinburgh did have a few promising moves over the course of the night – James Johnstone hitting an excellent line off the back of a lineout to burst out of his own half midway through the first half, and Hickey picking out Duhan van der Merwe with an inch-perfect cross-kick to the left touchline after ten minutes of the second half – but neither team really looked like properly cutting loose.
Hickey was short with a long-range scrum penalty, as Edinburgh slowly but surely took a chokehold of the match. During a 15-minute spell camped deep inside the Cardiff 22, Hickey almost released Eroni Sau with another cross-field kick but the Fijian flyer couldn’t quite gather, and van der Merwe was bundled into touch inches short of the line after a rampaging run, before Hickey eventually opened up some daylight with a penalty from the right with just over five minutes to go.
The game was finally taken out of Cardiff’s reach with just under two minutes to go when Edinburgh won turnover ball ten yards from their own line to spark a surge of adrenalin. Two high-octane kick-chases harried Cardiff into conceding a ruck penalty 30 yards out, which Hickey had no problem sending home for three more points.