Edinburgh travelled down to Cardiff with a poor away record in the league in recent years, but some not too distant memories of victory at the Arms Park to comfort them against a vociferous crowd looking to celebrate a homecoming.
Edinburgh opened the scoring through Greig Laidlaw with a kick that initially looked like it might go the same way as some of his efforts last week, but veered just inside the post.
Also like last week Edinburgh had a very lively opening, their big ball carriers – Cox, Denton, McInally – all making yards and giving the backs space to throw the ball around in. Denton in particular looked a lot more lively than last week and definitely up for the battle. Roddy Grant was the usual bundle of energy, in for Ross Rennie.
Tim Visser and Lee Jones both had chances early on as Cardiff struggled to keep their defensive structure in the face of Edinburgh’s high-paced offloading game. Visser perhaps was let down by a bouncing pass from Nick De Luca that lost him time, but Jones should perhaps have had the confidence to at least try to burn Halfpenny rather than cut inside.
Eventually Cardiff got some possession and built well through the phases for a penalty. If at any point the game slowed down in the loose, the Blues seemed to have a slight edge as they could target the line – no prizes for guessing which diminutive stand-off they were aiming at.
Last year Netani Talei rose to prominence when Stuart McInally was muscled out of a game – and the Edinburgh team – by the Cardiff pack. This season he has come back looking bigger and fitter, and is keeping Talei on the bench. This time when Cardiff pushed, he pushed back.
The game’s opening try was created by Sean Cox who appeared in midfield and made a great offload; this following an outrageous dummy that the threatening presence of Denton made all the easier to sell to Cardiff. After that it was usual story, Visser in space with sight of the line. There was some pontificating by the TMO but the try was never in doubt.
Laidlaw missed the conversion from out wide and another penalty attempt. But Edinburgh looked like they might well score again.
As usual Nick De Luca was rushing out of the line putting Cardiff’s backs under pressure. When Cardiff tried something similar Edinburgh were getting over them or round them. A couple of times it didn’t work though and allowed Cardiff ample room to break, with Tom James and Alex Cuthbert both looking for work. At half time, Cardiff had the lead by a point.
Just after half time, new man Greig Tonks cunningly fell over at the side of a ruck as Cardiff attacked the line and was sin-binned for professionally interfering. Which was a bit unprofessional, really. Cardiff upped the pace as the Arms Park crowd scented blood.
Laidlaw had been targeted all night by big Cardiff runners – even without Rush, Tito or Molitika there’s no shortage – and when Tonks was off Cuthbert rumbled through Houston and Laidlaw from 15 metres out to make the advantage count. Halfpenny and Laidlaw added another 3 points each to make the score 19-11.
Neither Richie Rees nor (when he came on) John Yapp showed signs of nerves returning to their old stomping ground, and when Yapp and Nel came on for Chunk and Cross the pressure on the Cardiff scrum didn’t ease any.
When Josh Navidi killed the ball in exactly the same situation as Tonks had at the other end, referee David Wilkinson could do no less than send him to the bin too. So at five metres out in the corner it was scrum time.
Approximately thirty seconds later Wilkinson was under the sticks blowing his whistle.
Without even a warning or a reset required, Nel had driven straight through the Cardiff front row to find himself, Yapp and Ford over the line to the clear delight of Richie Rees. Nel seemed pretty pleased with himself too. Yapp and Nel may not get the points, but I am sure they’ll get the pints.
Edinburgh had a number of chances in the remaining time they were up a man but terrific scramble defence from Cardiff kept them out as every small error from De Luca or Visser – or anyone in Black – was jeered by the home crowd.
For the final ten minutes of the match Edinburgh and Cardiff were restored to parity in the teams; on the scoreboard separated by just a point. After that it became a frantic scrap not to lose the game.
Sweeney missed a penalty chance on 71mins but Cardiff still looked like they were going to close the game out. Luckily for Edinburgh they snatched one bit of possession and made it count with a drop goal from Laidlaw.
That gave the visitors a two point lead that the enthusiasm of replacement Andy Titterell allowed them to hold on to until Tonks could clear it to touch.
SRBlog Man of the Match: David Denton. Cuthbert and Visser had a ding-dong battle, with the Welshman edging it, but this match was won in the forwards despite the backs’ best efforts to lose it. After a quiet game last week, Denton tackled and carried tirelessly all night, and Grant, McInally and Cox all had good games.