Edinburgh did the needful last night, albeit opponents Newcastle had one eye on this match and the other on their precarious perch at the foot of the Premiership.
The contest offered any number of match-ups. If the Fijians were having a carrying contest Edinburgh’s Bill Mata beat Tevita Cavubati, and his pass out the back of his hand for Blair Kinghorn’s late try was Michael Jordan-esque.
Home No 9 Henry Pyrgos probably shaded the scrum-half kicking battle, threading a beauty into the south west corner even if he did overcook a box kick a little later. And the front row won their own battle within the wider war, comprehensively, even if they did wait until Edinburgh went 10-7 behind on the scoreboard before making it count with the first scrum penalty of the match. In the second half it was a penalty try directly from a set scrum that finally put some distance between Edinburgh and the visitors, who clung on for longer than anyone expected.
But the most intriguing head-to-head on show was the contest between the two opensides. Hamish Watson is Scotland’s acknowledged starter, Gary Graham the man who would be king.
This wasn’t comparing apples with apples, more apples with apricots.
Watson is a traditional seven, nothing else, a specialist. He won a turnover penalty on eight minutes and popped up more than once as a link man in the wider channels. His kick chase was more wing than wing forward.
Graham wears seven but plays a very different game. He carries, he was an lineout target in both halves and he does a lot of the heavy lifting at the breakdown. He is a little like a Chris Robshaw – betwixt and between.
Watson looked the busier of the two, on the ball more often, perhaps because Edinburgh bossed possession, and he scored the opening try of the game. But it is the little things that tell you a lot about a flanker and Graham, pictured, looks a smart player. After just ten minutes Edinburgh had an attacking lineout inside the Falcons’ twenty-two that was stolen by Newcastle’s Glen Young. But the long lock was only able to do so because Graham had moved quickly forward with his man to be in position to make the lift when the ball was delivered.
Graham isn’t a seven, not in the traditional sense, but it’s worth remembering that Gregor Townsend is attempting to up-skill his players, especially his forward pack. So prop Allan Dell, who runs and passes like an openside, gets the nod over Gordy Reid, who doesn’t. Graham would bring a seven’s skills to the number six shirt, along with a much else besides.
He might not be a natural seven but Watson is and it would be instructive to see them playing side-by-side rather than head-to-head.