Edinburgh 28-11 Leinster: Fit-again John Barclay shines on his debut

Edinburgh's Bill Mata fends off a would-be tackler on a charge upfield. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS/SRU
Edinburgh's Bill Mata fends off a would-be tackler on a charge upfield. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS/SRU
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This was an odd match that pitched Leinster’s second string against a powerful Edinburgh squad, who only managed to take the lead immediately before the half-time break and only wrestled 
control of this match in the second 40 after a horrible opening quarter.

The points give Edinburgh a fighting chance of making the end-of-season play-offs, especially since two of their rivals, Benetton and the Scarlets, both lost last night.

Even better was the news that debutant John Barclay and Matt Scott both survived their first rugby in months. Barclay in particular looked impressive for a man who hadn’t laced his boots in anger for ten months. He even won the man of the match award, although that may have been a sentimental vote because he was overshadowed by the indefatigable Hamish Watson.

Edinburgh Rugby’s answer to the Duracell Bunny carried like a man possessed last night and looks the perfect foil for the more cerebral Barclay. But, as is usual with Edinburgh, they had the tight five to thank for the transformation from first-quarter clowns to eventual winners.

Two of their four tries came from front row forwards, another to Bill Mata and the fourth went to the entire pack in the form of a penalty try from a set scrum. This was rugby as a game of power and Edinburgh enjoyed flexing their muscles, even if it took them a while to do so.

Almost all of the opening exchanges belonged to Leinster. They milked a scrum penalty when Edinburgh were at full strength and they repeated the trick when the home side were a man down for ten minutes, Fraser McKenzie perhaps lucky to get away with a yellow card for an ugly tip tackle on Leinster’s Noel Reid, which ended the centre’s match after just 12 minutes.

Ciaran Frawley kicked an early penalty for the visitors and, when given the opportunity to do likewise, Jaco van der Walt could only hit the upright.

Leinster were slicing Edinburgh open a little too easily and Henry Pyrgos was lucky not to join McKenzie on the sidelines when his knock-on ended another promising Leinster move.

The extra man eventually paid dividends. Leinster won a scrum penalty and kicked the ball into the corner and Sean Cronin barrelled his way over from the ensuing driving maul.

The game was 20 minutes old before Edinburgh remembered they were playing for a place in the play-offs and upped the tempo accordingly.

The forwards got their driving maul into second gear but lost the ball yards from the Leinster line. Mata broke through but had no support on his shoulder. Another lineout drive was halted illegally which led to another lineout, another maul and a long series of pick and drives by the Edinburgh big men.

It was an arm wrestle and, what’s more, one that Leinster were winning until WP Nel got under the defensive radar to score by the posts on the half-hour mark.

Much of the good work was then undermined when Edinburgh conceded a penalty and three points from the kick-off.

But it wasn’t long before Edinburgh were camped on the Leinster line again. A series of set scrums five metres from the try line were all owned by the Edinburgh front row and the referee soon tired of all the shenanigans and awarded a penalty try to the home team on the stroke of half-time to give Edinburgh a 12-11 lead at the break.

Just minutes into the second 40 Leinster’s ill discipline caught up with them, Ireland flanker Dan Leavy was sent to the sidelines for repeatedly slowing Edinburgh’s ball.

Just as Leinster had done in the first half, Edinburgh took full advantage, kicking to the corner with their hooker, this time Ross Ford, rumbling over from short range.

From being 11-8 down just before the break, Edinburgh found themselves 21-11 up shortly after it and looking for that all-important bonus point fourth try.

It arrived after another long series of pick and drives which ended with Mata scoring to popular acclaim. Job done, and the TMO even wiped off a late Leinster effort.