EDINBURGH made a flying start in the Guinness Pro12 league with a fine win over Leinster, channelling the latent potential demonstrated in two warm-ups into the opening game of the new season.
Lessons learned in beating Romania and Ulster were put to good use and converted into a winning margin of two tries to none, with winger Damien Hoyland, just cut from the Scotland squad, returning to his old club ground at Boroughmuir to score the double that made the difference.
Edinburgh were good value for the win, showing some signs that they may be able to translate the fine form that swept them all the way to the final of the European Challenge Cup into their league campaign this season.
Head coach Alan Solomons said: “I am well pleased. A lot of unforced errors in the first half, but we got a little bit of control in the second with territory and possession and we created a number of opportunities to score, but never got over the line, so we will have to look more carefully at that.”
After ten disorganised minutes for both teams to find their feet, Leinster were first to launch a serious attack, getting to within a few metres of the line before Edinburgh mopped it up with sound tackling and won the relieving penalty as the visitors held on.
But as Edinburgh, with nine players on World Cup duty, tried to build some momentum of their own a high tackle on winger Cathal Marsh allowed full-back Isa Nacewa a shot at goal from almost 40 metres and he put the first points on the board for Leinster.
A few minutes later he wasn’t far away with an attempt from the halfway line, but, when Edinburgh’s new Kiwi signing Nasi Manu, who would be named man of the match, took the ball into contact to win the penalty going in the other direction, scrum-half Nathan Fowles thumped it over from 45 metres to square the game.
In the second quarter, Edinburgh sensed they were forcing the visitors onto the back foot and began to throw passes that stretched the Leinster defence and had them back-pedalling furiously. Leinster, coached by international veteran Leo Cullen, were then obliged to collapse the scrum on their own put-in only five metres out. Edinburgh could have taken the points but went for the lineout, won possession cleanly, but couldn’t carry over the line despite repeated lunges. Fowles missed with a long-range penalty attempt just before the players trooped off at half-time as the rain began to pour down.
From the restart, a mix-up between Fergus McFadden and Jack Conan gave Edinburgh a scrum inside the 22. The ball then went from one side of the pitch to the other, but again the Irish defence held and Fowles missed a relatively simple penalty.
Edinburgh kept up the pressure as the rain eased, kicking for the corner from a penalty inside the Leinster 22 and this time the rolling maul went over the line, but a knock-on, spotted by the video referee, prevented a try being awarded. Once more Edinburgh turned the screw. The scrum provided good ball and it went wide for Hoyland to force his way over and touch down for the try that put his team ahead. Fowles’ conversion from the touchline dropped just short.
Nacewa reduced the margin to two when Edinburgh were caught offside at a ruck. Home full-back Jack Cuthbert tried his luck with an attempt from just inside the Leinster half, but it drifted wide and the game went into the final quarter.
Leinster began to fray at the edges as little they did with the ball in hand worked and Edinburgh were able to soak up their attacks before they even reached the red zone. But a penalty on halfway gave Nacewa a difficult kick to take the lead by one.
He fluffed it. Cuthbert then had a chance in the opposite direction after hooker Neil Cochrane won the turnover and the penalty. He landed it.
The kicking battle resumed with Nacewa shaving the inside of the post from 25 metres to claim another three points and haul his team within striking distance. But it wasn’t enough.
A frustrated Dominic Ryan was yellow carded and Hoyland got on the end of a free-flowing move to charge towards the line and dive over for his second try and the one that closed out victory right on the final whistle.
Edinburgh, with their tails up, now go to Treviso before returning to the familiar wide open spaces of Murrayfield, with Foo Fighters long gone, to play Ospreys at the beginning of October.