Edinburgh survived an early second-half scare to secure their third victory in this season’s Guinness Pro14 with a bonus-point win over a spirited Cheetahs side.
Richard Cockerill’s team seemed in firm control at the break but the South Africans suddenly burst into life with two quickfire tries which had them briefly leading 21-20.
Edinburgh gathered themselves, though, and finished strongly to ensure a maximum return heading towards next Saturday’s crunch Heineken Champions Cup match away to Montpellier.
Cockerill said: “On the whole it was a good performance. They are a dangerous team. We just have to believe in ourselves a bit more, when we get in the lead we need to put our foot on the throttle and kill teams off. We are an improving team.”
Edinburgh nudged themselves ahead inside five minutes as stand-off Simon Hickey knocked over a routine 20-metre penalty and they then got the crowd going with a promising attack as wing Duhan van der Merwe broke the Cheetahs defence inside his own half. The big blond South Africa-born flier fed Hickey but the Kiwi’s pass couldn’t quite be gathered by centre James Johnstone.
The lead was soon doubled, however, as Cheetahs transgressed inside their own 22 again and Hickey made no mistake from even closer range.
It was all Edinburgh heading into the second quarter and the first try of the evening duly followed as an attack from a scrum in the away 22 saw the home side work the phases before lock Ben Toolis crashed over and Hickey duly converted to open up a 13-0 lead. Cheetahs, who are in the other Conference A, made the play-offs in their maiden Pro14 season but, after losing a number of players in the summer, were searching for their first win of the season with a 39-39 draw against Ulster the only time they had avoided defeat.
What had been a pretty toothless first-half showing from the Bloemfontein outfit suddenly exploded into life with a thrilling counter attack from speedy left wing Rabz Maxwane, who zig-zagged his way through a number of flailing Edinburgh defenders before the covering Van der Merwe stopped him short. Maxwane was able to pop the ball off the deck to the onrushing centre Nico Lee, who finished it off before Tian Schoeman converted to cut the lead back to six points.
Edinburgh’s response was immediate as wing Darcy Graham got on the end of some slick hands, taking the scoring pass from full-back Blair Kinghorn in the right corner.
Hickey converted well from out wide to make it a healthy 20-7 lead at the break.
Edinburgh were punished for slackness the previous weekend when they allowed the Italian side Benetton to storm back and almost nick it in a tight 31-30 win for Cockerill’s side. The home defence buckled again at the start of the second half last night as Maxwane barged through Henry Pyrgos to crash over, Schoeman slotting an excellent conversion.
The electric Maxwane then really set the cat amongst the pigeons as he hit a perfect line to pierce the line and dot down for his second. The kick was again good to put the Cheetahs 21-20 up but the lead didn’t last long as Hickey maintained his flawless showing with the boot as he banged over another penalty.
Edinburgh found some reserves of energy at the right time and took the game back to the Cheetahs. The driving maul was putting pressure on the visitors but some dogged defending held the line.
It couldn’t hold with 15 minutes left as No 8 Bill Mata picked up from the base of the scrum and used his power and ball-handling ability to twist over and score, Hickey converting.
Edinburgh’s push for the bonus point was given a helping hand when sub Charles Marais was yellow carded for a high tackle on Stuart McInally. The penalty was sent to the corner and the man-advantage told as the home pack, boosted by Ross Ford and Simon Berghan off the bench, marched the maul over, with fellow replacement Jamie Ritchie getting the touchdown and Hickey once again successful with the kick.