Edinburgh closed to within a point of Connacht and Munster at the top of Pro14 Conference B last night thanks to this comprehensive win over previously undefeated Scarlets. In what was easily the home team’s best display of the season to date, Duhan van der Merwe scored a hat-trick of tries, Mike Willemse claimed two, and Mark Bennett and debutant Eroni Sau also crossed.
Van der Merwe’s first two tries came in a devastating opening burst from which Scarlets never recovered, and the performance from Richard Cockerill’s side was all the more impressive given they had been forced into a late change, bringing Henry Pyrgos into the starting line-up at scrum-half and captain after Nic Groom’s wife had gone into labour. Pyrgos was soon in the thick of things, supplying the scoring pass for Van der Merwe to run in the first try after Ally Miller had broken the first line of defence.
The winger was soon on the scoresheet again, running in another easy score after good work by Nick Haining had been carried on by Matt Scott and Bennett. Simon Hickey converted to make it 12-0 after only ten minutes.
Edinburgh made clinical use of their next chance, hooker Willemse peeling off a maul and running in the third try against a defence that looked static at best, lackadaisical at worst. Hickey again converted.
Scarlets thought they had got off the mark late in the first half when Kieran Hardy dived over in the corner, but a TMO review showed the last pass had gone forward. Nonetheless, the ease with which the Edinburgh defence had been prised apart was a warning to them that more work had to be done before the game was won – and they responded within two minutes by scoring the bonus-point try.
Van der Merwe was the instigator this time, with Pyrgos and Hickey carrying on the move deep into the Scarlets 22. Pyrgos looped a pass out to Bennett, who beat his man with ease and touched down, giving Hickey a simple conversion.
The only black spot in the first half came right at the end, when Fraser McKenzie was sinbinned for an offence in the ruck. Even then, Edinburgh emerged unscathed, as Scarlets kicked to touch but lost possession from the lineout. The Welsh side did nothing with their man advantage after the restart either, and soon after McKenzie returned, Hickey stretched his team’s lead with a penalty.
Scarlets got off the mark with almost an hour played when substitute hooker Marc Jones touched down against the base of a post. Edinburgh hit back quickly, and Willemse got his second try from a lineout maul after a penalty had been sent to touch. Van der Merwe then went one better, completing his hat-trick thanks to a scoring pass from Jaco van der Walt, who added the conversion. Finally, Sau marked his debut with his team’s seventh try in the last minute.