Edinburgh are only a point off the top of Pro14 Conference B this morning thanks to this victory, but it was far from plain sailing against a Dragons side who are a far more solid and competitive side this season under former Scotland assistant coach Dean Ryan.
While Munster and Scarlets have a game in hand on Richard Cockerill’s side and should pick up points today, this was an important result and performance the week before the Challenge Cup begins.
With John Barclay and Ben Toolis starting for the first time since the World Cup and three of their colleagues from Japan coming off the bench, Edinburgh are now back to pretty much full strength. They still need to rediscover some sharpness, but in the circumstances this was a mature and relatively composed display which augurs well for the European campaign.
Sam Davies missed a chance to give the Welsh side an early lead with a penalty from out wide, and although the visitors retained the upper hand for a while, Edinburgh’s defence at the breakdown was more than a match for them, with Pierre Schoeman and Luke Crosbie being particularly effective. At the other end, the home pack thought they had scored from a lineout maul after a penalty was sent to touch, but the referee called for a second stop and gave Dragons a scrum.
The penalty had been right in front of the posts, so one way or the other it was a chance squandered, but Edinburgh quickly made amends in similar circumstances. This time the ball came back from the lineout maul, and with too many defenders having been drawn in, Blair Kinghorn had ample space to slice through the defence for the first try, converted by Simon Hickey.
Davies’ second attempt at goal crashed back off an upright as Dragons struggled to find a foothold, while Edinburgh continued to defend patiently. An excellent kick chase out of defence saw Cockerill’s team awarded a penalty, which again went to touch only for the lineout maul to fail well short of the lineout.
Some variety in attack appeared to be needed, and five minutes before the break it arrived when Edinburgh opted to scrum a penalty in front of the opposition posts. The first one went down; they scrummed again. The second one led to a drive that was halted illegally, and this time they went for the penalty. Hickey made it 10-0 at the break.
Very soon after the restart it seemed that had increased to 15-0 as Matt Scott barged through on an angle, but Mike Willemse’ pass had gone forward so the score was chalked off. That was at worst a minor setback, but a more perilous one came when Toolis was yellow-carded for blocking full-back Jordan Williams on a counter-attack. Within minutes, Dragons had mounted their most threatening attack of the game, but Edinburgh were again equal to the task, with Schoeman and Scott combining this time to snuff out the danger.
By the time Dragons blindside Huw Taylor was sinbinned for repeated offences, Edinburgh had wound down the clock deep in enemy territory. Hickey added three points from the penalty, and it looked like the home team were close to sewing up the points. Instead, Dragons hit back with their first score of the night, a simple move from a scrum that saw Sam Davies put Adam Warren through on an angle. Davies converted.
Simon Berghan had come off the bench by that time, and he was joined by World Cup colleagues Grant Gilchrist and Jamie Ritchie as Edinburgh tried to reimpose their dominance. The impact was immediate: a powerful drive took the forwards through the middle, then when the ball was spun wide, Kinghorn and Ritchie combined to put Duhan van der Merwe in at the left corner. Hickey converted.
Magnus Bradbury lost control just short of the line as try No 3 appeared to be in his grasp but it mattered not: the game was in the bag.