Edinburgh 9-22 Scarlets: Worries mount for Solomons

Scarlets John Barclay challenges Edinburgh captain Ross Ford. Picture: SNS
Scarlets John Barclay challenges Edinburgh captain Ross Ford. Picture: SNS
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Edinburgh slumped to their third loss in four outings and remain rooted to the bottom of the RaboDirect Pro 12 after another desperately disappointing display from Alan Solomons’ side.

Scorers: Edinburgh: Pens: Leonard (3). Scarlets: Tries: Reynolds, J Williams, Davies. Cons: Priestland (2), Pen: Priestland.

The Scarlets scored three tries to none and did not have to work particularly hard to get them – with two coming from loose Edinburgh clearance kicks.

With neither side willing to attack from deep, long periods of this match instead turned into a kicking contest in which Rhys Priestland always looked the likely winner over Harry Leonard.

In fact the entire evening was a triumph for the Welsh fly-half, who many had pencilled into the Lions Test team in the summer before he was injured and missed most of last season. He had a hand in everything, kicking from all angles and orchestrating play beautifully.

His Edinburgh opposite number was not bad as such – he actually hit it long and straight off the tee – but not many would have looked good by comparison with the Welshman on the night.

Leonard’s half-back partner Sam Hidalgo-Clyne made a good impression on his first start for the club. The little scrummy is slight but he tackles way above his weight and his kicking from hand always offered the chasers some hope.

Edinburgh didn’t help themselves by struggling in the set piece, losing their first lineout and first scrum. In fact the scrum was a mess with Scarlets loosehead Phil John allowed to push at whatever angle he chose.

But it was the Scarlets’ backline that carried the real threat, with Priestland himself and Scott Williams both making early line breaks. The visitors were only undone by their own lack of discipline. Four times in the opening 20 minutes alone the visitors were pinged for an infringement at the breakdown. The fifth time it happened the referee lost his patience and lock Jake Ball was sent to the bin.

Edinburgh had been on the back foot for the majority of this match to date but with an extra man they upped the tempo, ran through a few phases and finally put some pressure on the opposition inside their own half. Once again the Scarlets could not quite help themselves, coughing up a penalty at a breakdown in the shadow of their own posts. Leonard made no mistake on 28 minutes and the thin crowd found their voice.

Almost inevitably the Scarlets won their own kickable penalty, almost from the restart, and Priestland levelled the scores.

Minutes later the same man hoisted a high, hanging ball that full-back Greig Tonks was unable to gather. The Scarlets regathered possession and ran through a couple of phases. Each time they attacked short on the right-hand side of the breakdown and each time Edinburgh looked short of numbers. When the visitors finally gave the ball width with a bullet miss-pass from Priestland, right winger Nick Reynolds was over in the corner. Priestland kicked the touchline conversion but Leonard got three back with the last kick of the half to keep Edinburgh in touch, trailing 10-6 at the break.

The home time looked lively at the start of the second 40. Tonks rounded scrum-half Rhodri Williams on the counter and combined beautifully with winger Jack Cuthbert, who almost passed to the touch judge before stopping himself at the last moment.

Edinburgh piled on the pressure and to no one’s surprise the Scarlets prevented release at the breakdown and this time it was Scotland flanker John Barclay, on his first start in red, who spent ten on the sidelines while Leonard kicked his team to within one point of the Scarlets. That was as close as they got.

Edinburgh no sooner dragged themselves back into contention than they gave up a soft score for the visitors, still short-handed, who grabbed the second try of the evening eight minutes into the second half. A loose clearance kick from Edinburgh did not make touch, Priestland gave the ball width and when it got all the way across field to Jordan Williams the left winger was unopposed as he dived over in the corner.

With the Scarlets defending a six-point lead the home fans were relieved to see the conversion and a long-range penalty from Priestland sail wide of the posts. A converted try would win the game for the home team but it never looked like coming.

There was one neat offload out the back of his hand from Cuthbert to Lee Jones and the same man almost put Michael Tait over the line but overall the Edinburgh attack was all too pedestrian and predictable.

The scrums had been ugly and when one went down on 65 minutes WP Nel was adjudged to have been the guilty party and was yellow-carded.

Five minutes later Edinburgh were defending a five-metre scrum but Leonard’s clearance missed touch. Priestland pumped a speculative cross field kick into the left-hand corner and Jones guddled it back over his own try line allowing centre Jon Davies to dive on the ball for the Scarlets’ third and final try. Man of the match Priestland kicked another beautiful conversion from the touchline.

While acknowledging the self-inflicted damage, Solomons remained upbeat about his side’s prospects, pointing out: “We just make far too many errors.

“We also give away penalties at crucial times in critical areas and we are making a rod for our own back.

“We won’t eradicate it overnight but we will change it. I am confident of that.”

Edinburgh: Tonks (Dominguez 73 min), Jones, De Luca (Tait 48 min), Atiga, Cuthbert; Leonard, Hidalgo-Clyne (Kennedy 53 min); Dickinson (Blaauw 61 min), Ford (capt), Nel, Gilchrist (Cox 48 min), van der Westhuizen, Basilaia, Grant, Denton.

Scarlets: L Williams, Reynolds, Davies (capt), S Williams, J Williams; Priestland, R Williams (Davies 67 min); John (Evans 69 min), Phillips, Lee (Owens 48 min), Ball (Earle 53 min), Snyman (Timani 61 min), Turnbull, Barclay, McCusker.