As perennial underachievers in recent seasons, Edinburgh headed to Cardiff looking to give fans something to believe in. It was a first chance to see Glenn Bryce and Duncan Weir in league action for their new side, and a welcome return for Grant Gilchrist. They were up against a Blues side who had recruited well in the off season (Nick Williams, anyone?) and who also had a point to prove having inhabited the same nether regions of the table as Edinburgh for too long.
It started well enough with a scrum penalty earning Duncan Weir the first points, but from the first real incursion near Edinburgh’s goal, Steven Shingler (yes that one) sold Solomoni “Junior” Rasolea a pretty cheap dummy and skirted round him for the score to put the home side back in the lead.
When Edinburgh next attacked the Cardiff line, they proved similarly effective, which was good to see. A spell of battering at the line by the pack fooled the defence when Fowles moved it wide, but not as wide as they were expecting. Rasolea made up for his error by making Shingler in turn look foolish, cutting a powerful line close to the pack to get Edinburgh’s first try and restore the visitors to a 3 point lead.
Weir extended the lead with a long range penalty signalling his usefulness to a team with a strong set scrum, to cap a solid opening quarter as the rain came out of an eerie purple sky.
Worryingly though, Edinburgh’s defensive shape looked good but was all too porous whenever Cardiff used Tomos Williams’ pace from the breakdown, or Plan A: Nick Williams. The big man hammered through the Edinburgh defence from the base of a ruck, and only Duncan Weir could slow him down enough for the defence to regather. Shingler kicked another penalty to make it 10-13 with half an hour played.
From there though, referee John Lacey compounded the pain of losing Nasi Manu to injury, as Jamie Ritchie was sin-binned for killing a driving maul by the Blues which also led to a penalty try.
Weir had two long range penalty chances but slid one just wide of the posts on the left and one on the right.
HT: Cardiff 17-13 Edinburgh
Edinburgh’s woes continued just after the half-time break when Shingler slotted a penalty pretty much in between where Weir’s misses had been.
Edinburgh then put some good phases together with strong carries from Rasolea and Tofilau in the centre but they were operating in a fairly narrow channel which Cardiff found easy to defend. They did earn another penalty for Weir, which he slotted from out wide to make it 20-16 with half an hour left.
As the bench came on, Toolis and McInally tried to add some impact. It was a quiet game ball in hand for the wings Tom Brown and Rory Scholes, while Glenn Bryce played well as a a sweeper but didn’t get a chance to stamp himself on the game like Stuart Hogg did against Connacht. Defensively though the backline tackled hard and did their best to shackle a lively Cardiff attack.
You couldn’t say much for Magnus Bradbury’s high ball skills though, spilling a long range kick that allowed Cardiff a sustained period of pressure and denying Edinburgh a chance to close the gap; just when it looked like they would clear successfully, Lacey blew the whistle to give Cardiff a 5 metre lineout.
Stopping Nick Williams must be like trying to halt a train, and as the heavens opened a short range batter by the Blues was the best option and not even the stout figures of WP Nel and replacement loosehead Jack Cosgrove could stop him. When he’s playing well it’s almost unfair on anyone asked to tackle him, let alone anyone of civilian size. He will do well at Cardiff this season.
At 27-16 with just under a quarter of the match left and handling conditions rapidly worsening, it was a tough ask for Edinburgh who battled hard to regain a foothold on the scoreboard but they are not a team adept at chasing games. They looked unsure of themselves with the ball in hand and unable to pick holes without the likes of Cornell du Preez to punch them open. Everything was flat and meandering.
There’s a lot for Duncan Hodge and the other skills coaches to work on over the season.
Cardiff scrum-half Tomos Williams on the other hand had been finding holes all night, and when Cardiff came knocking in the final ten minutes the red defence held at first before he darted through a gap and slapped the ball over the line to secure a bonus point for the home side.
It was never going to be a revolution, but there was worryingly little sign of evolution either from Alan Solomons’ side who will need to find some sort of shape that they can use to get the best from Weir if they are to avoid basement-dwelling at the business end of the season.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Not too many to pick from with the pack not really providing any strong go-forward ball, although it was nice to see Grant Gilchrist play the full 80. The only Edinburgh player to really impact the game (good or bad) was Solomon Rasolea, so he can have it for a few glimmers of strong ball-carrying hope in the rain.