Edinburgh 22 - 29 Cardiff: Euro hopes look distant

Jack Cuthbert, centre, tries to evade Cardiff's Macauley Cook and Gareth Davies. Picture: SNS Group/SRU
Jack Cuthbert, centre, tries to evade Cardiff's Macauley Cook and Gareth Davies. Picture: SNS Group/SRU
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IT IS now very hard to see a way in which Edinburgh can contrive to finish in the top six of the RaboDirect Pro12 this season – which means they are almost certain to miss out on the opportunity of playing in the inaugural season of the Champions Cup next year.

Edinburgh 22 - 29 Cardiff

Scorers: Edinburgh: Try: Scott, Brown, Du Preez; Con: Cuthbert 2; Pen: Cuthbert. Cardiff: Try: Allen, Paulo, Fish, Hewitt; Con: Davies 3; Pen: Davies.

At Meggetland

Referee: D Phillis (Ire)

Attendance: 3,700

Mathematically speaking, the dream is still alive, but they have left themselves relying on a whole lot of results outwith their control going right – and would still have to win their four remaining matches, and given the calibre of the opposition they have during the next month (Zebre and Glasgow Warriors away, Munster at home, and then Leinster away) that looks a really long shot. It will certainly require a huge step up in performance level from what they managed in this match.

The implications of not making it into the Champions Cup (if that is what happens) reach well beyond the frustration of not having the glamour and excitement of playing against Europe’s top teams next year. Without the lure of playing in the club game’s most prestigious tournament, coach Alan Solomons is bound to find his quest to recruit high calibre talent in the summer a whole lot harder.

One of the big selling points of Edinburgh playing these final games of the season at Meggetland has been that although the capacity is only 3,700, the proximity of the crowd to the pitch will help generate a better atmosphere than the vast, cavernous expanses of Murrayfield.

That wasn’t at all evident during the opening moments with the Blues dominating play, by bringing their big men – particularly powerful Samoan centre Isaia Tuifua – onto the ball, and the visitors got their reward with just three minutes gone when Edinburgh flanker Cornell Du Preez was penalised under the shadow of his own posts for languishing on the wrong side of a ruck in a blatant attempt at slowing down possession.

The hosts struck back immediately when Filo Paulo grabbed an Edinburgh player round the neck as the two teams wrestled for possession from the kick-off, with Jack Cuthbert more than happy to slot the three points.

Edinburgh then grabbed the lead when two careless penalties for crossing and offside allowed the home team to work their way deep into opposition territory, before Matt Scott came onto a flat ball like a runaway train and powered past his man to open up a clear run to the line.

At first it seemed like this score might have finally settled home nerves, with Tom Brown and Cuthbert giving the home crowd something to shout about with two big tackles in quick succession – but it didn’t last. Edinburgh were soon on the back foot again, and it was no great surprise (or injustice) when Corey Allen took advantage of a three-man overlap on the right to pull the scores level, after a powerful surge by Kristian Dacey.

The difference between the two sides was neatly encapsulated around the half-hour mark, when the Blues fielded a speculative clearance kick and launched a sweeping counter attack which eventually yielded a penalty for side entry at a ruck just ten yards from Edinburgh’s line. Instead of taking the easy three points, the visitors kicked for the lineout and got their just reward when Paulo was driven over the line. Things went from bad to worse for Edinburgh at the start of the second half, with Dan Fish grabbing try number three for the Blues after a neat exchange of passes with Alex Cuthbert.

Edinburgh’s hopes were restored when Brown demonstrated great strength on the left touchline to muscle his way over but it was another false dawn.

Cardiff were more determined in attack but it wasn’t until the 75th minute that their victory was sealed when Dafydd Hewitt crossed for the bonus point try – but that was down to Edinburgh’s good fortune rather than any parity between the level of performance of the two teams during the final half-hour. 
Du Preez rumbled over for Edinburgh at the death, giving the scoreline a level of respectability for the home side they scarcely deserved. It also secured a losing bonus point which is unlikely to be of much significance.

Scotland winger Tim Visser made his comeback from a broken leg when he came off the bench for the hosts for the last five minutes.

Scorers: Edinburgh: Try: Scott, Brown, Du Preez; Con: Cuthbert 2; Pen: Cuthbert. Cardiff: Try: Allen, Paulo, Fish, Hewitt; Con: Davies 3; Pen: Davies.

Edinburgh: J Cuthbert; S Beard (T Visser 75), M Scott, A Strauss, T Brown; H Leonard (C Bezuidenhout 75), G Hart (S Kennedy 63); A Dickinson, R Ford, W Nel, G Gilchrist, I van der Westhuizen (O Atkins 51), M Coman, C Du Preez, D Denton (R Grant 60).

Cardiff: D Fish; A Cuthbert, C Allen, I Tuifua (D Hewitt 27), C Czekaj; G Davies, L Jones (L William 69); G Jenkins, K Dacey (T Davies 51), T Filise (S Andrews 51), L Reed (B Davies 12), F Paulo, M Cook, J Navidi (E Jenkins 75), R Copeland.