Heineken Cup: Edinburgh 12-23 Gloucester

David Denton (top left) tries to keep possession from Sione Kalamafoni. Picture: SNS
David Denton (top left) tries to keep possession from Sione Kalamafoni. Picture: SNS
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GLOUCESTER cruised to a comfortable win at Murrayfield on Sunday that all but ends Edinburgh’s hopes of qualifying for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals for another season, but the hosts’ part in their own downfall will worry head coach Alan Solomons.

Scorers: Edinburgh - Tries: Tonks, Denton. Cons: Laidlaw; Gloucester - Tries: Cook, Thomas 2. Cons: Burns Pens: Burns 2

Much like Glasgow in Cardiff on Friday, the Scots started well and showed flashes of their ability against less-than-inspiring opponents, but then failed the consistency test.

The scrum and lineout had its fine moments but coughed up ball at inopportune times; decision-making was woefully off when Gloucester were vulnerable; the kicking rarely asked questions of Gloucester’s defence; and their own defence was comically poor in communication at times and parted like the Red Sea at others in a manner that would make a schoolboy team blush.

Gloucester could hardly believe their luck, their coaches laughing at times in the stand. In this cavernous stadium of 60,000 empty seats, where match atmosphere is at a premium despite the best efforts of the Edinburgh staff, there is more pressure on the players to enliven the occasion, and at present that appears a burden too great for this developing Edinburgh team.

Gloucester came north off the back of five Premiership defeats, a narrow home win over Perpignan the sole high point going back to September, while Edinburgh’s confidence was building from three league wins in four and a thumping 40-pointer against Connacht.

If that assurance was dented by losing hooker Ross Ford to a calf strain on Saturday, it did not show early on as the hosts worked feverishly to turn over Gloucester ball with their ever-improving accuracy at the breakdown, and it was the home side that opened the scoring.

Playing with control and patience, Edinburgh attacked on the right through Dougie Fife, his dynamism pulling Gloucester to the West Stand side. As the ball was moved left and hit up a couple of times, pulling in more defenders, space was created on the left and exploited by good passing from Ben Atiga to Cornell du Preez to David Denton. The final pass found full-back Greig Tonks who neatly sidestepped flanker Matt Kvesic before diving into the left-hand corner.

However, that seemed to awaken Gloucester’s attack and lull Edinburgh’s defence into a false sense of security. Within five minutes, Edinburgh were sliced open, their defensive line slow to close down the visitors on halfway, allowing Henry Trinder to pick his spot with a delightful kick through and Rob Cook was all on his own as he surged through to collect the invitingly bouncing ball near the left-hand corner flag and dot down.

Freddie Burns and Greig Laidlaw were off-target with the conversions, so the scores sat 5-5, but the hosts were almost effortlessly opened up again in rapid succession, first by Yann Thomas, the loosehead prop, and then full-back Cook, and only frantic scrambling defence by the hosts prevented Gloucester from scoring again.

They did bank three points, through a Burns penalty, and in the 18th minute right winger Martyn Thomas took a neat inside pass to sprint through yet another gap in the Edinburgh midfield, the width of several barn doors, and race the final 25 metres to the line untouched.

An overthrown lineout handed Edinburgh some much needed possession, and slick passing by fly-half Harry Leonard brought a penalty for offside but Laidlaw pushed the long-range effort wide. And while Ross Rennie, the Edinburgh flanker, was striving to lead with his skilful, darting runs, the hosts failed to hang on to the ball for long enough to build real foundations in the game.

Gloucester’s defensive line, led well by the impressive trio of Burns, skipper Billy Twelvetrees and Henry Trinder, was quick and physical, and forced errors, while Edinburgh’s remained sluggish, even retreating, and handed Burns another three points, which put Gloucester 18-5 ahead at half-time.

Edinburgh’s execution was slipshod, Leonard and Laidlaw kicking poorly, and Nick de Luca fumbling a pass after good work by the forwards rolled Gloucester back into their 22. Then winger Jack Cuthbert and Tonks got in each other’s way fielding a long clearance.

If that was poor, home supporters had just five minutes to wait after the restart before witnessing further humiliation. Jonny May is quick and extremely skilful, but his counter-attack off a kick from the Gloucester ten-metre line where he first shredded the home defence, then cantered around it, through several despairing lunges, before slipping the ball to Thomas near the line for a simple try, exposed inept tackling by the Edinburgh team.

Skipper Laidlaw worked tirelessly to find a way forward, aided by the workhorse No 8 David Denton, and after flanker Cornell du Preez was held up over the line Denton made sure in the 52nd minute, finishing a series of drives. Laidlaw’s conversion pulled the score back to 23-12 to offer some brief hope.

But the sight of Paul Moriarty, the Gloucester forwards coach, furiously banging the desk in front of him in the West Stand after his side chose moments later to go for goal with a penalty rather than seek the bonus point try, was instructive. Both sides were making so many errors and coughing up turnovers that no Gloucester players felt the game was yet won.

Edinburgh showed why minutes later with a terrific counter-attack from deep. It was cynically halted by James Hudson at a ruck ten metres out – which earned the lock a yellow card – but Gloucester’s defence held out. Denton almost reached the line, but was held up a metre short. Edinburgh failed to spot a huge overlap to their left and prop WP Nel drove it forward again, eventually losing the ball when it seemed to all and sundry that a try was inevitable. A converted try would have moved the scoreline to a more exciting 23-19 as the game neared its conclusion.

Instead, the match petered out, with neither side able to take control. Fatigue set in on the pitch and deep disappointment spread off it to cap a Heineken Cup weekend to

forget for Scottish rugby.

Edinburgh: G Tonks; D Fife, N de Luca, B Atiga, J Cuthbert; H Leonard, G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson, A Lutui, W Nel, G Gilchrist, I van der Westhuizen, C du Preez, Ross Rennie, D Denton. Subs: W Blaauw for Dickinson, J Hilterbrand for Lutui, R Grant for Rennie, all 60mins.

Gloucester: R Cook; M Thomas, H Trinder, B Twelvetrees (capt), J May; F Burns, J Cowan; Y Thomas, D Dawiduik, S Knight, E Stooke, J Hudson, S Kalafamoni, M Kvesic, B Morgan. Subs: H Edmonds for Dawiduik 50mins, R Harden for Knight 55, M Cox for Kalamafoni, D Robson for Cowan, both 60, D Murphy for Y Thomas 72.