Edinburgh almost wilted in this one, but inspiration at key moments in the first half and some stern concentration in the last ten minutes saw them out against a free-running Harlequins side.
The visitors made their intent clear from the off spurning a penalty kick which led to an early try by wing Charlie Walker; last season’s finalists showing not only that they had come to play, but also that they also felt confident of taking points near Edinburgh’s try line. It was a nice offload from Karl Dickson (brother of Lee), but a soft try to concede.
The ease with which they crossed for the score perhaps set familiar anxieties loose in the minds of Edinburgh supporters, but they shouldn’t have worried, at least not yet.
To the fore in the response was – wait for it – Edinburgh’s back line, given their head by interim coach Duncan Hodge and clearly looking to repay his faith with some brilliant counter attacking rugby.
The first response came from an Alan Dell try created by a Phil Burleigh break, the loosehead (a late replacement for Rory Sutherland) running a nice supporting line to grab the offload out of the tackle at full-tilt for the try.
19 year-old fullback Blair Kinghorn was up against England’s Mike Brown, former All Black Nick Evans and multiple Lion Jamie Roberts in the Harlequins backline, but he didn’t look that worried about the reputations in front of him and scored the second try with some deceptively pacey solo running, backing himself to carve around Evans and dot down in the corner.
It was exciting, if defence-lite rugby from both sides, but who would complain when you had tries like Nasi Manu’s effort, created with a long range solo break down the touchline, then a chip and gather from the hugely impressive Damien Hoyland who popped it out of the tackle to the rambling ex-Highlander.
Hoyland was heavily involved in the next try too, a burst of acceleration down his wing getting in behind Harlequins and allowing Kinghorn to run rampant before popping it over his shoulder to the flying Hamish Watson. If you were going to pick the three players who will lead the Hodgenaissance™, it would be those three and it was nice to see them so heavily involved.
Quins had too much class throughout their side to remain completely uninvolved and Marlon Yarde battered over for what looked like a try just before half time. The TMO decided he didn’t see enough of it to award it though. Poite awarded the first of two penalty tries for a collapsed maul, then there followed another five minutes of dullness from the officials as the TMO looked at a minor scuffle. Despite fluffing another restart, a lineout and giving away a penalty all in the final minute, Edinburgh were undeterred and had the last word of the half when Hoyland snaffled a spilled Quins pass from around his knees and sprinted the length to score.
Tovey started the second half in the bin along with Charlie Walker after Tovey’s lazy supporting run provided just enough blocking to allow Hoyland to get clear, something Walker took exception to.
Half-time: Edinburgh 31-14 Harlequins
Discipline wise it was the mess we often see from Edinburgh or Glasgow with French refs, with Tovey and Gilchrist both spending time in the bin and two penalty tries awarded across the piece. No sooner had Tovey and Walker returned than Gilchrist was sin-binned for a lazy late tackle on Yarde. Marler was already in the bin for clumsily taking Toolis’s legs away from him at a lineout.
Restarts also were woefully under-managed, giving the opposition a chance to hit back after almost every score, even if they hadn’t taken advantage during the first half.
The indiscipline gave Harlequins the entry point into this match that they needed, forcing Edinburgh to watch as their lead was slowly eroded. Kyle Sinckler opened the scoring with a try in the corner, and Harlequins – well led by Danny Care – suddenly found their shape in attack and in the maul.
Discipline was at fault for the next points, with Edinburgh collectively making enough of a mess of a maul for Poite to scamper under the posts.
Suddenly the gap was only 3 points and Harlequins had the engines purring. Mat Luamanu was not long on the park and made the most of some sleepy defending to pile over in the corner after the backs had made some cutting incisions in Edinburgh’s defence. He had cause to celebrate his try, as it was the first time the visitors had been in the lead since the opening minutes.
Replacement Glenn Bryce thought he might have hit back in fine style, but the pop pass from the otherwise solid Magnus Bradbury was well forward and the officials didn’t have to work hard to figure that out.
In the end it was the back three that once again showed the way for Edinburgh, Hoyland with a speculative chip kick for Tom Brown – who also had a good game – and both men clambered all over Mike Brown to snatch it out of the air and restore Edinburgh to a single point lead, that they held until the final whistle.
All in all the positives from this game outweighed the negatives. The only real disappointment was not having Tim Visser or Ruaridh Jackson on the opposite side; this was a game that suited the flying Dutchman down to the ground had he been on either side.
They’ve plenty to work on but at times Edinburgh looked like the freewheeling team of old – remember when they used to be the “attacking ones”while Glasgow were the “stodgy ones”?
SRBlog Man of the Match: Tim Visser has been scoring tries for fun at Quins but Damien Hoyland looks like he is starting to enjoy himself too… He was a key force in Manu, Watson and Brown’s tries as well as bagging one of his own. With English clubs threatening to withhold players in the Autumn over an injury payment dispute and Tommy Seymour still injured, the former Melrose man must surely now be a front-runner for a wing spot when the Scotland squad is announced tomorrow.
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn, Damien Hoyland, Chris Dean, Phil Burleigh, Tom Brown, Jason Tovey, Sean Kennedy, Rory Sutherland, Ross Ford, WP Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist (captain), Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, Nasi Manu.
Replacements: Stuart McInally. Allan Dell. Felipe Arregui. Fraser McKenzie. Viliame Mata, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Michael Allen, Glenn Bryce.
Harlequins: Mike Brown, Marland Yarde, Joe Marchant, Jamie Roberts, Charlie Walker, Nick Evans, Karl Dickson, Joe Marler, Rob Buchanan, Kyle Sinckler, Sam Twomey, James Horwill (captain), Chris Robshaw, Luke Wallace, James Chisholm.
Replacements: Joe Gray, Mark Lambert, Will Collier, Charlie Matthews, Mat Luamanu, Danny Care, Tim Swiel, Alofa Alofa.