After seven wins in a row Edinburgh got what they deserved, their comeuppance. They produced an error-strewn, hapless display in South Africa that was comically bad at times, not that coach Richard Cockerill was laughing afterwards.
“We did enough to win the game,” he said, “and then you concede two tries with five or six minutes to go and you get what you deserve. It was an opportunity to get ahead of the guys around us and we missed that opportunity. Nobody but ourselves to blame. We had opportunities, we just didn’t take them.”
The Southern Kings had won one match all season, against Glasgow, so there is something about the Scots that brings out the best in them and their selfless defence alone merited this victory. They were lucky in one respect, conceding 18 penalties to Edinburgh’s six, both teams ended the match with one yellow card apiece.
The hosts took an early lead and held it until the final quarter, when a couple of Edinburgh tries gave the visitors an eight-point advantage inside the final ten minutes. With the visitors a man down, the home side went to work.
First up replacement fly-half Bader-Werner Pretorius scored far too easily from an attacking lineout. Masixole Banda converted to make it a one-point game and the Kings ran back the ball from the kick-off.
Meli Rokoua handed off the challenge of Ally Miller and while the flanker got back to make a diving tap tackle the damage had been done. Rokoua made huge inroads before a one-handed offload to Yaw Penxe. Viliame Mata’s desperate cover tackle failed to nudge the winger into touch.
It had been a terrible match, with neither side covering themselves in glory, but no one could argue that the Kings deserved their win given that they had earned it with approximately 30 per cent of possession.
Edinburgh’s problems were perfectly displayed in the third quarter when the visiting forwards went through 31 pick and drive phases until Mata spilt the ball over the try line and prop Pietro Ceccarelli failed to ground it. It was a Rorke’s Drift defence from the Kings but all that wasted effort from Edinburgh was a perfect summary of their afternoon.
At least Edinburgh prop Pierre Schoeman enjoyed his return home with a dominant display at the scrum which saw his opposite number yanked from the field after 23 minutes of action.
But the visitors failed to capitalise – not helped by the referee – and were guilty of forcing things far too early; attempting to match the breathless and headless rugby that the Kings enjoy. It is the height of summer in the republic and it showed. Some of the visitors were reduced to walking pace inside the opening half hour.
When Edinburgh did get into the opposition red zone they failed to hold the ball, no one more guilty than young centre George Taylor who dropped it in the act of scoring.
Whatever their faults the South African franchise pose a lethal threat with their blistering pace and Edinburgh got an early warning of what was to come. Winger Bjorn Basson took full advantage of a short-handed blindside to score after four minutes.
Edinburgh’s reaction was immediate. They ran through a few phases inside the Kings’ red zone without dropping the ball and scored a simple try, Chris Dean taking an inside pass from Henry Pyrgos at first receiver to crash over.
Two penalties from the boot of Banda gave the hosts a 13-7 lead at the break. The third quarter saw Edinburgh hammer repeatedly at the Kings’ try line only to be repelled every time.
Only when the hosts’ scrum was a man down, flanker CJ Velleman the guilty party, did Edinburgh take advantage with the set scrum, finally earning a penalty try to take a squeaky 14-13 lead into the final quarter. The match opened up dramatically with both sides doing their inept best to hand victory to the opposition. Eventually replacement Ross Ford scored from an attacking lineout and Jaco Van der Walt’s conversion gave Edinburgh an eight-point lead.
Just as the visitors were contemplating a bonus-point try James Johnstone was carded at a breakdown. The Kings got their second wind and their second try followed soon after.
The Kings had just four minutes to find the winner, they needed only one.