Edinburgh 61-13 Southern Kings: Rampant capital team hit top spot with nine-try hammering, as South Africans reduced to 12 men
Christmas may be over but it was a Turkey shoot at BT Murrayfield as Edinburgh demolished a Southern Kings side who, at one point, were reduced to 12 men to start the new year in perfect style and go top of Guinness Pro14 Conference B.
Taking advantage of Munster's loss at Ulster on Friday, Richard Cockerill's side mowed down the bottom side who, through a combination of ill-discipline and misfortune, were thrust into what became a complete mismatch as Edinburgh notched nine tries
Out with the old and in with the new but, understandably, a very different feel to the final match of 2019 here at BT Murrayfield, which attracted a record Scottish pro-team crowd of 27,437 to the national stadium for Edinburgh’s 29-19 win over Glasgow seven days previously.
There were 22,600 less who pitched up on the last Saturday night of the festive season for the visit of Conference B bottom side Southern Kings but those that did left warmed by another step forward in what is developing into a promising season for the capital side.
The South African side, who have taken the odd scalp, including Edinburgh’s in Port Elizabeth last season, have struggled to make an impact since their switch from Super Rugby to the Guinness Pro14 two years ago but they struck first with a well-worked try.
Stand-off John-Thomas Jackson’s teasing chip into the corner was seized upon by left wing Erich Cronje and a trip to the TMO confirmed the grounding was good, though Jackson couldn’t make the difficult wide conversion.
It was the wake-up call Edinburgh needed and they soon had the match by the scruff of the neck, aided by a perfectly correct 12th-minuted red card from the impressive female Irish referee Joy Neville, on her seventh Pro14 appearance, to Kings tighthead Pieter Scholtz for a clear forearm smash on returning Edinburgh openside John Barclay.
Not long after that the home side got themselves off the mark as well-executed lineout drive ended with hooker Mike Willemse crashing over to score against his former team.
Stand-off Jaco van der Walt, making his 50th appearance for the club, duly slotted the conversion to edge Edinburgh into the lead.
The man-down Kings hit back with spirit and an infringement at the breakdown in his own 22 by Barclay gave Jackson a simple penalty chance to reclaim the lead.
Edinburgh responded swiftly and put together a sustained period of pressure before finally breaking the shackles but some initially slick hands came to nought as Willemse’s final pass to Henry Pyrgos just failed to go to hand.
The try did came moments later when, with penalty advantage from a scrum, the ball was spun wide and wing Duhan van der Merwe hit a superb and unstoppable arcing line to streak over in the right corner, Van der Walt just wide with the conversion.
Edinburgh’s confidence began to surge and they began to put some air to the ball on a cold but clear night in the capital. Some wonderful passing accuracy pulled the Kings from side to side before reinvigorated centre Matt Scott made the crucial breach to score and Van der Walt nailed a fine conversion to build what should have been healthy 19-8 lead on the half-time scoreboard.
Neville could well have gone to her book again for a fearsome smash by loosehead Schalk Ferreira on Nick Haining, which saw the Edinburgh No 8 removed for a head injury assessment but, instead, the Kings were given the benefit of the doubt and made the most of it as Jackson got over in the right corner to make it a five-point game heading into the second period.
There was lots to like in the first-half performance but plenty of slack moments for Cockerill to pull his charges up on in the break and the response was immediate after the restart as James Johnstone took advantage of the space to soar over for the bonus-point score.
Van der Walt kicked the conversion to extend the lead and while the Kings continued to show spirit it was sapped further when injury to sub prop De-Jay Terblanche left them a front-row short with all subs used and they found the misfortune of having to be reduced to 13 men.
Edinburgh’s sub prop Simon Berghan seemed to have added another try but it was ruled out for a forward pass.
Mark Bennett came on for a wing cameo in place of Van der Merwe as young Charlie Shiel was given a run in place of Pyrgos.
A penalty try piled on undeserved misery for the South Africans who were, incredibly, reduced to 12 men as lock Aston Fortuin was yellow carded. No longer a fair fight but Edinburgh showed no mercy as Shiel cut loose and linked well with Scott to put wing Eroni Sau in down the right touchline. Shiel, Cherry and Bennett all filled their boots in the closing minutes.
SCORERS: EDINBURGH: Tries: Willemse, Van der Merwe, Scott, Johnstone, penalty try, Sau, Shiel, Cherry, Bennett; Cons: Van der Walt 6.
SOUTHERN KINGS: Tries: Cronje, Jackson; Pen: Jackson
EDINBURGH: B Kinghorn; E Sau, J Johnstone, M Scott, D Van der Merwe; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos; J Bhatti, M Willemse, WP Nel; L Carmichael, G Gilchrist; M Bradbury, J Barclay, N Haining. Subs: D Cherry, P Schoeman, S Berghan, B Toolis, L Crosbie, C Shiel, S Hickey, M Bennett.
SOUTHERN KINGS: C Winnaar, Y Penxe, S Sithole, H Mnisi, E Cronje; J-T Jackson, S Ungerer; S Ferreira, J Du Toit, P Scholtz, J Sexton, A Fortuin, R Lerm, T Bholi, E Louw. Subs: A Van Rooyen, X Vos, D-J Terblanche, J-C Astle, B De Wee, T Maree, B Pretorius, A Loubser.
REFEREE: Joy Neville (Ire)