Edinburgh recovered from a desperately poor first-half performance to win their third game in a row in Pool 4 of the European Challenge Cup in the first of a double-header that will continue at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford this weekend.
Scorers: Edinburgh – Tries: Nel, Cochrane, Sutherland. Cons: Hidalgo-Clyne (2). Pens: Heathcote (2). London Welsh – Try: Crane. Con: Ross. Pens: Ross (2).
Victory came courtesy of three tries by the front row that made up the bulk of 19 unanswered second-half points that London Welsh could not prevent as they tired and had control of the game wrested away from them.
Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons said: “In the first half we made far too many errors and made a rod for our own back. At half-time I told the players we needed to be calm, keep hold of the ball, get into their half, cut down the error rate and the points would come. I told them London Welsh hadn’t fired a shot and we had made far too many errors, including gifting them their try.
“And the points did come. After ten minutes of the second half I thought London Welsh were gone and I wasn’t worried after that. I would like to compliment the guys who came on off the bench because they made a massive difference.”
Edinburgh were hoping to set aside their dire Guinness PRO12 league form and instead focus on a 100 per cent record in the Challenge Cup – two matches, two wins home and away – but, for a long period, it seemed as if their inconsistency would haunt them.
London Welsh are currently struggling to find any semblance of winning form, having lost all nine of their games in the Aviva Premiership so far this season and both Challenge Cup fixtures by a margin of more than 21 points.
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They started with former Scotland international Gordon Ross at stand-off but the 36-year-old player-coach and captain couldn’t work the same kind of magic as he did in his previous appearance at BT Murrayfield – a victory over England in 2006. His wise head and intelligent kicking gave Welsh the edge at half-time but, as they faded and Edinburgh powered up, there was only ever going to be one outcome.
Edinburgh opened the scoring in the first minute with a simple penalty by Tom Heathcote, their top scorer in the competition, awarded when the Welsh back row needlessly went off their feet at a ruck inside their own 22.
The visitors then retained possession for several minutes but were making little headway against the Edinburgh defence, who eventually conceded a penalty 30 metres out for not rolling away and Ross knocked it over to equalise.
Welsh were having some success in penning Edinburgh inside their own half and impatience began to show when Grayson Hart’s pass in loose play was intercepted and winger Rhys Crane had an unopposed 40-metre run in. Ross converted.
Edinburgh’s reply was to kick into the Welsh 22, win the lineout and drive the maul towards the line, but the Welsh defence, if a little ragged, held firm and Edinburgh had to settle for a second Heathcote penalty.
From the restart, try-scorer Crane was yellow carded for taking out opposite number Tom Brown in the air. Edinburgh tried to take advantage but were making too many mistakes and Ross’s tactical kicking kept gaining territory and pushing them back. His place kicking was hurting them too as he landed another 25-metre penalty to stretch their lead. Crane’s return restored his team to full strength three points to the good and with Edinburgh having failed to get out of their own half.
Edinburgh finally got some momentum going as the ball flashed across the pitch but Tim Visser had nowhere to go by the time the ball reached him and Welsh easily closed him down. Edinburgh persisted and won a lineout just inside the Welsh 22 but just couldn’t get the maul rolling. A second attempt had the same result with the addition of a penalty attempt from out near the touchline but Heathcote hooked it and the teams went in at half-time with Edinburgh trailing by seven points.
A re-energised Edinburgh emerged for the second 40, pounced on an early handling error by Welsh and recycled it through several phases before tighthead prop WP Nel barged his way over. Heathcote couldn’t convert.
There was more purpose and determination about Edinburgh now. London Welsh refused to succumb and kept their eyes on the prize but it was they who were penned inside their own half. Outside centre Matt Scott almost stepped his way through heavy traffic in the loose to trigger an Edinburgh attack that had Welsh scrambling back frantically to cover but it didn’t end with points on the board.
The pressure had to tell as the game went into its final quarter. Ross kicked out on the full as he tried to clear
his lines and, from a lineout on the 22, Edinburgh drove the maul forward to win the penalty, but the kick by replacement scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne that would have nudged Edinburgh into the lead went wide.
Edinburgh were relentless by this stage and Welsh were rocking, but errors kept creeping in to spoil promising moves. But there were no errors as the ball shifted through half a dozen hands for substitute hooker Neil Cochrane to cross the line. Hidalgo-Clyne added the extras.
With ten minutes remaining, flanker Roddy Grant punched a big hole in the Welsh defence and loosehead prop Rory Sutherland carried the ball over for his first try for the club, completing a rare treble for the front row. Again, Hidalgo-Clyne kicked the conversion and the game was over as a contest. Edinburgh had a couple of opportunities to snatch a fourth try for the bonus point but the stubborn London Welsh were in no mood to capitulate completely.
Edinburgh: N McLennan; T Brown, M Scott, A Strauss, T Visser; T Heathcote, G Hart; R Sutherland, J Hilterbrand, W Nel, O Atkins, B Toolis, T Leonardi, R Grant, M Coman. Subs: N Cochrane, G Sheills, J Andress, A Bresler, S McInally, S Hidalgo-Clyne, G Tonks, S Beard.
London Welsh: E Kear; R Crane, N Reynolds, A Awcock, C Elder; G Ross, P Rowley; T Alholelai, N Vella, B Cooper, J McNally, M Corker, B West, C Kirwin, B Pienaar. Replacements: N Morris, S Cahill, J Gilding, D Browne, L McCaffrey, R Lewis, N Scott, T May.
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