Cardiff opted not to kick the first penalty they were awarded in this game at the Arms Park, perhaps a sign of conditions, their confidence in their own abilities or just against this opposition.
It didn’t look particularly windy, but then Duncan Weir made the same decision on Edinburgh’s first foray – just – into the Cardiff half.
The visitors first attacking spell was arguably more successful than the hosts in terms of the length of possession but likewise ended scoreless despite some nice passing by Sam Hidalgo-Clyne. However the young scrum-half also delivered the “flat” pop for Blair Kinghorn’s first try after 12 minutes and the lanky fullback made it through the defence to dot down. Weir converted quickly to deny the TMO a chance to intervene and Cockerill’s men were probably about where they wanted to be.
Luck can be quite important in a game refereed by George Clancy, and Edinburgh had their share in the first half with a few flat passes let go (see above) and balls bouncing their way as Cardiff struggled to adapt to the pace of the game. It gave them a good spell of possession in attack but they also looked quite comfortable in defence, new coach Calum MacRae giving them a system that when they are all concentrating is very hard to breakdown. Cardiff would have been looking for a Nick Williams on Duncan Weir mismatch, but couldn’t force one.
Despite plenty of whistle from Clancy it took until the 26th minute for Duncan Weir to have a pop at goal, the success giving Edinburgh a 0-10 lead.
The defence once again did brilliantly to keep Cardiff out in the period leading to half time, but when the backline forced a turnover Chris Dean was snaffled as he tried to clear and the ball bounced back into Blue hands before a cross-field kick from Jarrod Evans was claimed by Josh Navidi for the try. It’s a clever move when the defence is scrambling wide as the kick receiver’s angle back in to the catch means he’s instantly cutting against the direction of the drifting defenders and it is hard for them to change especially if he is in the air and protected.
Evans converted in face of a deadly serious chargedown attempt by Jason Harries who looks like he has serious gas. Darryl Marfo also had a decent first half for his new club, part of a dominant Edinburgh scrum where WP Nel once again held the whip hand.
Overall, a decent first half where they took the few chances they had and looked, well, like they knew what they were doing.
Half-time: Cardiff Blues 7-10 Edinburgh
Glenn Bryce replaced Dougie Fife at half time which gave Edinburgh two options at the back in a game with plenty of kicking.
Again though, Cardiff put their first penalty of the half into the corner. This time it came from a good shove by the Cardiff pack and a reversal of the trend from the first half. Another scrum penalty minutes later allowed Evans to even the scores up and the Edinburgh pack would not have been feeling quite so dominant. Right on queue, Cockerill brought on the front row replacements.
Luckily the Edinburgh back row were having a strong game and they were continuing to influence the breakdown and the defensive workrate, which was huge across the team. Hardie was quiet with the ball but was tackling everywhere as was Jamie Ritchie while Bradbury took on more of the ball carrying. The decision to award him the captaincy seemed to have the desired effect on senior players like Stuart McInally and Grant Gilchrist who also looked like they stepped up a level.
Another Weir penalty with half an hour to go gave Edinburgh back the lead.
On 55 minutes they also made good on their first real scoring chance since the first try, a strong period of attacking where Ritchie was at the heart of the drives through the Cardiff defence. Harries couldn’t quite get free on the left wing but the ball came back inside and it led to Hidalgo-Clyne spreading it wide to Kinghorn on the right who popped it back inside to Chris Dean, who stretched through the tackle to dot down.
The new front row at least restored parity at the scrum but Cardiff were still able to claim plenty of territory off the back of it. There was a moment of “last season” Edinburgh where an insecure ball at the back of a poorly defended ruck was kicked loose and only Ross Ford pouncing on it prevented further embarrassment, but generally they looked after the ball well.
Fowles almost got a third try which might have made things interesting – there were enough close calls left out there in the second half for a bonus point – but his arm wasn’t quite long enough. Spurred on by this, Edinburgh somehow managed to pinch the ball at the ensuing scrum and attack again. This time, Weir’s grubber was snaffled by Navidi but a penalty gave the visitors yet another chance. Again they couldn’t capitalise on it with a score, but coming away scoreless was a rare black mark in a game where they made the most of limited opportunities.
Should they be more able to create their own opportunities is a question for another time, as the Cockerill era got off to a pretty good start. Edinburgh last season were guilty of letting sides back into games they were winning. I am sure the fans will accept it if they’ve graduated to not scoring breakaway sevens tries in games they are winning; the backline blend will be one that takes a while to find.
First game of the season, away win? We”ll take that.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Most of the pack played very well and it was great to see John Hardie in fine tackling form, but Jamie Ritchie was the standout and outshone his captain Bradbury – who still played pretty well. Tackling tirelessly and punching holes with his carries, Ritchie also jackalled a vital breakdown turnover on 76 minutes when he must have been out on his feet. Ritchie could have a very fine season indeed if he continues on this form.
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)