Edinburgh 25-27 Scarlets: Top-three hopes in tatters despite some thrilling rugby

Edinburgh played some of their best rugby of the campaign in Murrayfield’s unseasonal sunshine, only for lapses at critical moments to deny them what could have been a vital victory against Scarlets.

Edinburgh's Darcy Graham scores a try against Scarlets but it wasn't enough. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
Edinburgh's Darcy Graham scores a try against Scarlets but it wasn't enough. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS

Instead, they emerged from the match with no more than a losing bonus point - an outcome that all but ends their hopes of a top-three finish in Pro14 Conference B.

“I think it’s going to be tough for us from here on in,” Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill accepted. “We fell a little bit short. It finished three tries apiece, so it’s a game we could have won, but a bit of luck and fortune wasn’t on our side.”

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The two-point margin on the scoreboard reflected the fact that Scarlets stand-off Dan Jones scored two penalties and three conversions, while Jaco van der Walt’s tally was two and two. The conversion that the Edinburgh man missed was a tough effort from out on the right touchline after substitute hooker Dave Cherry had scored, and Van der Walt was also off target after that with a penalty attempt from close to halfway.

But the result was not determined merely by the merits of the respective 10s. Scarlets were slicker in attack than the home side, especially in the first half, and they were tighter in defence too, as was demonstrated above all in the long final passage of play which saw Edinburgh try - and fail - to manoeuvre a position for Van der Walt to attempt what would have been a winning goal.

The single point Cockerill’s team gleaned from the game leaves them 14 points behind third-placed Scarlets, with two matches in hand. Even if Edinburgh win all four of their remaining games with bonus points, Scarlets will finish above them if they take six points from the two they have left. Only the top three in each conference are guaranteed a Champions Cup berth next season.

Of course, Edinburgh are still in the competition this season, and will learn next week who they meet in the round of 16. “Europe is going to be the focus now, I suppose,” Cockerill added. “But we’ll try as hard as we can to get as many points as we can.”

Edinburgh’s first-half tries came from Magnus Bradbury and Darcy Graham, and with Van der Walt converting both and adding two penalties, they went in at the break 20-17 ahead. But Scarlets, whose first-half scores had come from converted tries by Tyler Morgan and Johnny McNicholl and a Jones penalty, took control early in the second 40. Dane Blacker got their third try, and Jones converted and added a penalty to make it 20-27.

There was still more than a quarter of the game to play when Cherry’s unconverted try from a maul made it a two-point game, but Van der Walt’s long-range kick was almost the only opening that a determined visiting defence allowed an increasingly fatigued home side.

Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Bradbury, Graham, Cherry. Cons: Van der Walt 2. Pens: Van der Walt 2.

Scarlets: Tries: Morgan, McNicholl, Blacker. Cons: D Jones 3. Pens: D Jones 2.

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Edinburgh: D Hoyland; D Graham, J Johnstone, G Taylor (C Dean 72), E Sau; J van der Walt, N Groom (C Shiel 51); P Schoeman (captain), M Willemse (D Cherry 51), L Atalifo (M McCallum 67), M Bradbury (A Ferreira 78), G Gilchrist, N Haining (L Crosbie 23-33), A Miller, V Mata (L Crosbie 61). Unused substitutes: B Venter, N Chamberlain.

Scarlets: J McNicholl; T Prydie, T Morgan, S Hughes (captain) (P Asquith 58), S Evans; D Jones (A O’Brien 67), D Blacker; P Price (K Mathias 69), Marc Jones (T Davies 69), P Scholtz (A Jeffries 69), Morgan Jones (T Ratuva 15-24, 43), S Lousi, U Cassiem (E Kennedy 67), J Morgan, S Kalamafoni. Unused substitute: W Homer.

Referee: B Blain (Scotland).

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