Edinburgh Rugby edge Emirates Lions by single point as bright start under Sean Everitt continues
It was the slimmest of margins and the scoreline was an accurate reflection of the game. Edinburgh were never comfortable but outscored the visitors two tries to one, with Ewan Ashman, on his debut, notching the crucial score in the second half after Luke Crosbie had crossed in the first. Ben Healy converted them both and added a penalty
Having defeated the Dragons in Wales last weekend, Edinburgh have now won their opening two games of the league season for the first time since 2019. And in beating the Lions, they have achieved something they failed to do in each of the previous two campaigns. The Johannesburg-based side may be the poor relations of the four South African franchises in the URC but they still got the better of Edinburgh in 2021-22 and 2022-23, albeit narrowly.
This was another close encounter and neither side were able to gain control in the early skirmishes but a yellow card for the Lions’ Edwill van der Merwe proved the catalyst for Edinburgh to take the lead. The South African winger was penalised for a deliberate knock on as he tried to intercept Mark Bennett’s pass to Ross McCann. With the Lions down to 14 men, Edinburgh took advantage, going to the corner then working the ball wide for Crosbie to force his way over from close range with the help of Grant Gilchrist and Javan Sebastian.
Healy converted but the visitors reduced the lead almost immediately, Jordan Hendrikse kicking a penalty after Viliame Mata transgressed. Edinburgh then enjoyed a period of pressure which should have yielded something tangible. Blair Kinghorn was a regular threat with ball in hand, so too was Bennett and the centre thought he had scored in the corner with an acrobatic finish only to have it chalked off for straying into touch. Wes Goosen then raced through but Chris Busby had already whistled.
The Lions took heart and a sustained period of pressure had Edinburgh creaking but they defended well, despite conceding a couple of penalties, and pushed the South Africans back to almost halfway. When the otherwise excellent Hamish Watson was punished for not releasing, Hendrikse opted to kick the penalty from 40 metres to reduce Edinburgh’s lead to 7-6 just before half-time.
An aggressive clearout from Matt Currie was an early indicator of the home side’s intentions at the start of the second half and when the Lions were penalised for not rolling away Healy chipped over to make it 10-6. The muscular Lions continued to threaten. Ruan Venter crossed but the try was disallowed because the giant Asenathi Ntlabakanye had impeded Watson, preventing the Edinburgh flanker from making a tackle. It was a let-off for the home side but the respite was fleeting. McCann, the Edinburgh winger, was yellow-carded for a high tackle and the Lions scored from the next play, Francke Horn breaking off from a lineout maul and bursting past Mata, Healy and Matt Currie for the try which Hendrikse converted.
It was a wake-up call for Edinburgh and their response was impressive. Ashman, just on the pitch for a matter of minutes, danced his way through for a debut try and Healy’s conversion put the home side 17-13 up with 18 minutes remaining. The Lions weren’t done and when they won a scrum penalty on Edinburgh’s put-in they went for the points, the reliable Hendrikse kicking the three-pointer to bring them to within a point and set up a nervy finale. Edinburgh dug in and when Hendrikse failed to find touch they were able to celebrate victory.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Crosbie, Ashman. Cons: Healy 2. Pen: Healy.
Emirates Lions: Try: F Horn. Con: Hendrikse. Pens: Hendrikse 3.
Yellow cards: E van der Merwe (Lions 13min); R McCann (Edinburgh 59min)
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; R McCann, M Bennett (C Dean 68), M Currie (C Dean 51-58), W Goosen; B Healy, B Vellacott (C Shiel 64); B Venter (R Hislop 54), D Cherry (E Ashman 54), J Sebastian (WP Nel 47), G Young (M Sykes 49), G Gilchrist, L Crosbie, H Watson (C Boyle 76), V Mata.
Emirates Lions: Q Horn; R Kriel, H van Wyk, M Louw, E van der Merwe (A Coetzee 58); J Hendrikse, S Nohamba (M van den Berg 68); C Fourie (M Naude 52), PJ Botha (J Visagie 52), R Dreyer (A Ntlabakanye 52), R Schoeman (W Alberts 68), D-L Landsberg, E Tshituka, R Venter (H Sirgel 68), F Horn.
Referee: Chris Busby
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