Needing a bonus point win to have any chance of a top-six spot, and the European Champions Cup rugby that comes with it, Edinburgh showcased both the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde of their psyche in the course of this 80-minute match.
In the first half the home side were well nigh unstoppable, making the game look easy, while scoring three good tries to set up what everyone in the crowd assumed would be a regulation bonus-point victory.
After the break Edinburgh were hideous, barely able to put on foot in front of the other without tripping up, unable to place any foot inside the Cardiff half of the pitch, utterly unable to close this one out. Their ten point lead at half-time evaporated into the chill Edinburgh air as Cardiff scored all the second-half points, 14 in all, from two tries in just four minutes. It could have been worse but the TMO wiped off at least one other Cardiff “try” after a closer look at the footage.
The last two seasons Edinburgh have finished eighth in the league but after yesterday’s disappointment they are one place worse in ninth, throwing some doubt on all those claims of progress that are trotted out by players and coaches alike.
Both teams scored three tries apiece but Gareth Anscombe added all the extras for the visitors while Welshman Jason Tovey managed just one conversion for Edinburgh with the other two bouncing back off the uprights. Those four points proved the difference between the teams at the final whistle, not that it was any consolation to Edinburgh’s South African coach, who was awarded a one-year extension when his team were a good bit higher up the league.
“It was bitterly disappointing in that second half,” said an angry Alan Solomons. “I thought we played really well in the first half 17-7 up, in an ideal position.”
The coach bewailed his team’s inability to play a territorial game in the second half and blamed the loss squarely on that, allied to a lack of possession.
“We turned over the ball so in the second half we have no momentum, we have no territory and you pay a price for that. The bulk of that half we played inside our own twenty-two, you can expect to win a game of rugby playing like that. I am very, very disappointed with the way we played in that second half, extremely disappointed.”
There was little sign of the implosion to come in the opening 40 minutes which Edinburgh dominated almost as much as Cardiff bossed the second half, Stuart McInally proving a more than able deputy for Ross Ford, both as hooker and captain, after the veteran tweaked his calf in the warm up.
Hamish Watson opened the scoring for Edinburgh down the right flank, thanks to Cornell du Preez’s clever over-the-top offload. The flanker was followed over the line by Matt Scott, the centre taking advantage of good approach work by Damian Hoyland to pick and go through the middle. Finisher then turned creator, Scott kicking behind the rushing Cardiff defence and hacking ahead only for Tom Brown to steal his score.
Rey Lee-Lo introduced himself to the Scots when scoring for Samoa in the World Cup and he grabbed Cardiff’s opening score in the first half. Still, Edinburgh should have been comfortable taking a 17-7 lead into the second half, but they disappeared down a sink hole they dug for themselves.
Cardiff set up camp inside the Edinburgh 22 for much of the second half and all their pressure was eventually rewarded with two tries in four minutes.
The first came from the big lock Cam Dolan who found an equally big hole in the Edinburgh defence on 62 minutes. The second went to full-back Dan Fish who ran back an Edinburgh clearance kick and did brilliantly well to beat a couple of defenders before offloading inexpertly to centre Garyn Smith who had to scoop the ball off the floor before diving over the Edinburgh line.
Anscombe kicked both conversions, Cardiff took the lead for the first time on 66 minutes and they held onto it despite one last surge by Edinburgh who drove a five-metre lineout close only to lose the ball in contact… and not for the first time.