Sometimes Scottish rugby does pull in one direction. Early evening in Edinburgh saw a number of Weegies ensuring that they had indeed had their tea before heading to Murrayfield to support their Eastern cousins. The migration may not have been as significant as that which backed the (former) Gunners in their last European quarter final at home (in fact all told the crowd was probably over 30,000 souls fewer than the historic 2012 clash with Toulouse) but the thought was there.
Sadly the thought wasn’t really there when it came to much of Edinburgh’s play once the match kicked off.
In the early exchanges, it was Cardiff Blues who struggled to find their way – particularly with referee Mathieu Raynal. Nick Williams transgressed 3 times in the opening 11 minutes but Edinburgh couldn’t take advantage until they won yet another penalty in the 18th minute which was knocked over by Jaco van der Walt.
To suggest that the 20 minutes that followed were error-strewn would be to woefully undersell the experience: the errors were not so much strewn as stacked in a huge pile and put on display front and centre like a toddler proudly displaying the poo in their nappy to the neighbours who have just dropped in for tea.
After Edinburgh lost the ball to a maul turnover Cardiff built their first significant attacking phases of the night. The home team’s defence chased the Blues from side to side without really being able to pressurise the attack until Jarrod Evans surprisingly chose to cross-kick away an overlap. With only openside flanker Ellis Jenkins hugging the touchline for the visitors the sweeping Nathan Fowles had things well covered. Except somehow he didn’t.
If the scrum half had caught the ball it would have been a 22 drop out and Edinburgh would have cleared. If the ball had gone over his head it would have run out, it would’ve been a 22 drop out and Edinburgh would have cleared. The only thing that would allow Jenkins to get into position to score a try was if the ball hit Fowles on the shoulder and spooned up in the air so the Welsh flanker could grab it and touch down in the very corner of the giant Murrayfield in goal area. So, of course, that’s exactly what happened.
The highlight compilers must have been digging out the Benny Hill theme music when 8 minutes later Edinburgh somehow conceded another try after Cardiff had kicked away possession. This time it was Gareth Anscombe with a grubber and Blair Kinghorn managing to slide under the bobbling ball and palm it up perfectly for Cardiff’s Samoan centre Rey Lee-Lo. A quick offload and Blaine Scully was in at the corner – cue chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” from the delighted travelling support.
Bookending that second score were a knock on when Fowles fired a pass at Jordan Lay when he wasn’t looking; and a quickly taken tap penalty that could have helped work Edinburgh back into the game but which made little ground and was turned over after 2 phases. This was hardly the sort of performance to be taking back into the ferocious at the best of times Richard Cockerill at the interval…
Half-time: Edinburgh 6-14 Cardiff Blues
Edinburgh’s unchanged line-up at the start of the second half suggested the head coach had restrained his instinct for physical confrontation and was giving his troops the chance to right their own wrongs. Changes in personnel would surely follow shortly though if there was no uptick in fortunes.
In fact the substitutes were drip fed in rather than wholesale but they all seemed to marginally improve things and shift the momentum. The key change for students of Challenge Cup history was on 54 minutes when Phil Burleigh emerged from the bench to try and change the shape of Edinburgh’s backline. Somewhere in Paris a bulky Frenchman reflexively grabbed his face (#prayforpascal).
Edinburgh were able to claim a good deal more possession in the second half. The trouble was making anything meaningful out of it. Bill Mata (20 carries for 54 metres) hammered away manfully but there was little in the way of support from the rest of the pack (64 carries for 40 metres). There were moments of imprecision which were less highlight-reel worthy than the calamitous try conceding clangers in the opening period but which were just as costly in their own way: a squint lineout throw here, a ball stripped there. Everything seemed to kill the home side’s momentum and it took them 26 minutes of the second half to break into the Cardiff 22.
When they did it was Kinghorn, the most dangerous attacking player on the pitch, who finally took his side into the red zone. The gangly full back brilliantly returned a loose kick from deep inside his own half to the visitor’s 5 metre line.
Ellis Jenkins snuffed out that attack – but illegally and he went to the bin for 10 minutes. This was just the first of four penalties in quick succession for the home side and each time they opted for the scrum. That was four attempts (plus a couple of penalty advantages) to get the score that would bring them back into the game. The Cardiff defence will take huge heart from keeping their line intact throughout that period but Cockerill and his coaching staff will be questioning just how they couldn’t find a strike move to expose a short-handed opponent, or why they didn’t try.
Edinburgh kept chipping away but the night was summed up when first Neil Cochrane knocked on deep in the 22 and then shortly afterwards Simon Berghan had the ball stripped from his grasp during one final assault on the line.
Perhaps on reflection, missing out on a trip to Pau will matter little if Edinburgh can nail down their place in the PRO 14 Final Series next week against Ulster. They’ll need to re-find the intensity that has served them so well in recent months though – and cut out the comedy of errors.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (FFR)
SRBlog Man of the Match: Blair Kinghorn’s break on 66 minutes was an undoubted highlight and the King always looked dangerous in attack but Bill Mata takes the MotM award for grafting tirelessly in a losing effort.