Edinburgh took to the turf of Murrayfield to open their league campaign against a Munster team that wasn’t exactly the first string, but still had enough nous to close the game out when they needed to.
If the new signings were largely absent for Glasgow yesterday, Michael Bradley threw a mixture of the young guys, the internationals and the new guys together. It was still unmistakeably Edinburgh – the frantic offloads, the dog-leg defenders, Sean Cox mixing it up and the unwillingness to play at anything less than full tilt.
And Tim Visser.
The big Dutch Scotsman (as he is now) showed early on that he intends to pick up where he left off last season. Quick ball moving right from a scrum and well timed passes from Laidlaw and fullback Greig Tonks putting him into space and allowing him to make this rugby lark look, well, easy. The man loves nothing more than scoring tries, you can see it on his face.
McInally showed why he was picked at Number 8 ahead of Denton, carrying powerfully (he looks to have bulked up a bit over the summer) and set up Visser for his second after Munster were turned over attacking the Edinburgh line. He legged it up field and found the winger lurking outside, arm raised. The pass was nothing special, but with that amount of space Visser doesn’t need it, and he duly fended off Keatley’s lunge for try number two.
If Visser’s class is now self-evident, Doug Howlett has been displaying it for years and he reminded us all of past glories with a lovely little half break through Edinburgh’s at times porous defence, followed by a chip into the in-goal area from the next ruck that put Keatley under the posts, and it was 10-10 at half time.
New trial law amendments were on show during the first half too, as if the tries weren’t of enough interest. A shorter scrum sequence seems to have done nothing to improve matters. New man WP Nel looked mystified at times, although you wonder if perhaps front-rows take acting lessons to perfect the puzzled look.
The 5 second rule, previously only used to pinch seats at parties, proved at times an effective way to speed up balls stuck in a ruck, provided you hear the ref telling you to use it, which didn’t always happen. Referee Leighton Hodges also illustrated that it can be applied a bit randomly, too. New ideas to improve the game might be wonderful, but the players will still be looking for consistency from the refs – in that regard little has changed.
A couple of penalties after the break kept the scoreboard going as both sides settled in for something slightly less explosive. Visser had another good chance but his defender was up to it and the match eased into a fitful period that was largely a defensive workout for Edinburgh, not always positive. When Luke O’Dea burst through it to dive under the posts, it was awfully familiar.
Bench emptying flattened the tempo of the game and the atmosphere and with 20 to play and a decent lead, Munster looked like they fancied shutting up shop, playing for territory and drop goals. For a while they had looked like they might play Edinburgh at their own crazy game, but they tightened up at just the right time to close the game out, kicking an easy penalty to put the gap beyond a single score.
Edinburgh had some good chances in the last ten minutes with a couple of attacking lineouts and some great bursting runs from Tonks and Visser. The Dutchman was everywhere, working to bring Edinburgh back into the game.
He popped up at first receiver as a battering ram and the ball was recycled with the impressive Nick De Luca sprinting around his defender. Tackled by a second Munsterman, the centre threw a pass towards touch as he fell. To none other than Visser, who should really have been at the bottom of a ruck somewhere but was in fact flying horizontally towards the line.
Mid-air catch, try; hat trick.
But it was out wide again and another missed conversion from Laidlaw. Greig was off-form with the boot; his 6 missed points would have given Edinburgh a win. However many of the new guys looked good. Mike Blair is gone, but Richie Rees looked almost a like for like replacement.
Tonks looked confident at fullback and keen to go forward – possibly in the Hugo Southwell mode, depending on the particular tint of your memories of the Wasps captain. In any case he looks like he’ll be a good fit with De Luca and Visser in terms of their outlook on rugby. And it won’t hurt Edinburgh to develop more scoring threats. Other new start Ben Atiga had much less to do, and looked for a fair bit of the second half to be struggling with his fitness, possibly a leg knock of some sort.
With the bonus point claimed Edinburgh kept coming for the win, but Munster were grim and ferocious in the rucks and gave them little room to create the try they so badly wanted. Disappointment for Edinburgh, but clear signs that last season’s class is still there bubbling under the surface.