Edinburgh took a giant step towards that elusive place in the Pro14 play-offs with this eight tries to two victory over a scratch Scarlets side.
Richard Cockerill’s team are now just one point away from the guarantee of post-season action and they won’t even need it [against Glasgow in the last match of the season] unless Ulster come away with ten points, two bonus-point wins, from their final two matches, their tie against Glasgow having been postponed during the bad weather last month.
Edinburgh were unstoppable in the opening 25 minutes, racing into a 26-0 lead thanks to tries from Blair Kinghorn, Duhan van der Merwe, Magnus Bradbury and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne. The scrumhalf also kicked four conversions, played with real authority set up another try in addition to his 60-yard effort and still didn’t get the man of the match award.
Edinburgh then took their eye off the ball and, on Grand National day, allowed the Scarlets ‘also-rans’ back into this game with a brace of tries, the first going to English winger Tom Varndell, the second to stand-off Dan Jones. Those 14 points arrived in the space of just five minutes for the visitors, who went on to dominate great swathes of this match without adding to the scoreboard.
An injury to Kinghorn’s knee just before the break is not thought to be too serious but it necessitated three positional changes. Mark Bennett came off the bench and went to centre, James Johnston moved from 13 to the wing and Dougie Fife filled in at the back as he has done with some distinction.
The disruption appeared to knock Edinburgh off their stride because the home team then spent much of the second half in desperate defence which held up pretty well to almost everything that the Scarlets threw. You wouldn’t ever want to say he was happy but Cockerill was in better fettle than he had been after his team’s last two outings, defeats to Cardiff and Ulster.
“[I am] a little bit concerned about how we soaked pressure and went into our shells but that’s part of our development which is getting better,” was the coach’s assessment after the game.
“It’s still bloody frustrating at times but it was better. I just said to the players before the game it’s a game we have to win.
“I’ve got to the point where I was a little bit bored with putting my arm round them and tapping them on the back and saying ‘are you all right’?
“It was a case of saying; ‘Let’s bloody front up and, if you really care about what we’re trying to do here and it means something to you, then turn up and do it’.”
The Scarlets enjoyed around 80 per cent of territory in the second half but it is testament to Edinburgh’s improved mindset that they held out and, whether by design or, more likely, accident, did the old rope-a-dope trick and caught the Welshmen on the counter – repeatedly.
A further four tries appeared against the run of play for van der Merwe, Bennett and Nathan Fowles, and the best of the bunch went to replacement flanker Lewis Crosbie who looks like one that is worth watching.
Should Edinburgh make the play-offs, their likely opponents will be Munster and Cockerill’s side are going to need all the defensive steel they can find for the trip to Thomond Park.
“I always get a bit fussy,” said Cockerill. “I get a bit frustrated then I watch it again at night and find out we played pretty well! Kitty (Callum McRae) is doing a great job with the defence. He should take the credit for that. He works hard at it.
“Roddy [Grant] and Hodgy [Duncan Hodge] and Kitty are good men who work bloody hard. Same with Nick Lumley. We are trying to get this club to a better place.
“You have to start somewhere and this is where we are starting. We just have to keep improving and working hard. We will hopefully win the right to play in the big competition and that is the big carrot for us.”
The coach’s assessment was backed by man of the match Magnus Bradbury, who has had an interesting season thus far but is finding some form when it matters most.
“We are in a position we haven’t been in with the club. It is his [Cockerill’s] framework but it is down to our hard work. What goes on off the field with all the hard work translates into results this season.”