SIX of one and half a dozen of the other usually implies the exact number doesn’t matter, but the number six is of massive importance to Edinburgh and they took a huge step towards it in Llanelli.
For the top six in the Guinness Pro12 automatically go into the Champions Cup for next season, which would give Scotland two representatives at Europe’s top table. Defeat by the Scarlets would have effectively knocked Edinburgh out of contention, but this victory keeps them very much in the mix after beating one of their closest rivals.
In fact, given Connacht’s run-in against most of the top sides, it would be tempting to make it a two-horse race now between Scarlets and Edinburgh. However, the Welsh side face the bottom four in their remaining fixtures, so the Scots’ current three-point advantage will almost certainly not be enough unless they can beat Munster and Leinster at home.
This victory was certainly vital, the greater try-scoring threat of Edinburgh meaning they were two points ahead when the result was effectively settled by the sending-off of replacement Scarlets scrum-half Gareth Davies for a headbutt on Edinburgh centre Phil Burleigh – the proverbial moment of madness.
Next Edinburgh’s thoughts turn to a different European test, an away quarter-final at London Irish in the Challenge Cup with the carrot of a home semi-final at Murrayfield should they win that one.
Stuart McInally was man of the match there when Edinburgh won three years ago on their way to the Heineken Cup semi-finals, the converted hooker playing in the back row then, while he was also the player who took over the captaincy in Llanelli when Mike Coman was injured shortly after half-time.
“We were delighted with the result,” admitted McInally. “We knew it was going to be a huge task coming down – the fact they have not lost here in the Pro12 this season was a massive incentive for us to come and be the first team to do that.
“We are really happy, we knew it would be a huge battle between us and Scarlets and Connacht for that sixth-place spot so we needed to get four points today and to stop them getting that losing bonus point. It is massive to get some momentum going into the London Irish game. If we can keep improving on that performance then I feel we are in a good place to go down to the Madejski next week.
“I have good memories there, but you have to go back a few years and it is a different tournament. It was a good day for me, I got a lot of ball and things seemed to happen for me.
“It is different now as a hooker. I am happy that after a couple of years I am coming out of a transition phase, I am trusted to start for Edinburgh in games like the Scarlets. I am far from an expert, I feel I pick up something new at every scrum, but we spend a lot of time on our scrum at Edinburgh and we were happy with that and our lineout defence.
“This was a mini-final in itself for us. We are back on track for sixth. It is a very big couple of weeks, the European stuff has been a massive highlight for the club this season, disappointing we were not able to play in the top tier competition but realistically that is where we were so it is up to this group of players to try and bring top tier European rugby back. We do not want to be the second team in Scotland, we do not want to be always playing behind Glasgow, we want to be pushing Glasgow and getting ahead, winning leagues and trophies and hopefully that will start this year in the Challenge Cup.”
Edinburgh started brightly with a neat try for Burleigh after his passing with wing Tim Visser created space down the left.
McInally was impressive in his relatively new role, but perhaps the key performer was second row Ben Toolis whose lineout steals kept Edinburgh in the game while a stream of Scarlets penalties moved the home side ahead, while another started the move that allowed No 8 David Denton to barge over to put the visitors back into the lead at half-time.
Prop Rory Sutherland also performed well, while Hamish Watson was a strong force in the loose. Scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne kicked six out of six to cap an impressive performance by him too.
The less said about the second half the better, but the sending-off of Davies and the boot of Hidalgo-Clyne denied the home side the consolation of a bonus point.
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