Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Edinburgh 6-20 Cardiff Blues

Rugby in the smoke
Jaco van der Walt waits for the smoke to clear before Edinburgh Rugby vs Cardiff Blues in the European Rugby Challenge Cup Quarter Final at BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh - pic © ALASTAIR ROSS | Novantae Photography

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.

Jaco van Der Walt
Jaco van der Walt kicks a penalty for Edinburgh Rugby – pic © ALASTAIR ROSS | Novantae Photography

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.

Blair Kinghorn
Blair Kinghorn in action – pic © ALASTAIR ROSS | Novantae Photography

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.

23 Responses

  1. Reality check. Probably the first real disaster of a performance since Benetton, I suppose it would happen sooner or later. Hopefully it’ll banish any complacency before our run in and play-off, but depressing to see old Edinburgh come back from the dead like a zombie.

  2. I never really rated him, so how did Navidi manage to dominate the breakdown like he did. I must have underestimated him. Think Edinburgh completely underestimated Cardiff or didn’t do their homework. Fowles was dreadful, and Kennedy is a much quicker and sharper player all round. Fowles really needs to leave in the summer as he’s not going to improve. Bradbury was also dreadful. He reminds me of Strauss 3 years ago when his body positioning going into contact was way too high.

    1. Navidi has always been a real player. Carries way above his weight, rarely misses a tackle, great jackal, huts rucks runs support lines and has amazing fitness levels. To not see that you couldn’t have been watching him these last few years

      1. Anyone who does not rate Navidi and was surprised he dominated the breakdown clearly did not watch Wales Scotland match in February when he completely dominated Hamish Watson and John Barclay at the breakdown.

        In terms of sheer number of quality back-row players no-one in the Northern Hemisphere comes close to Wales. Having Moriarty, Faletau, Warburton, Tipuric, Lydiate, Shingler, Navidi and James Davies to choose from is just crazy depth to have. The options Wales have to choose from in both the back-row and back 3 is astonishing.

      2. Ireland do. And Navidi et al. have been dominated many times in other matches, e.g. by Edinburgh earlier this season.

  3. Big near empty stadium can’t help the team, it’s time to move back to Myreside.

    Typical that performance comes in the first knock out match of the season where there is no second chance.

    To be honest the team has probably had the bounce of the ball in recent matches and that plus everything else went wrong today. Some header by Fowles, perfectly placed.

    1. Engage brain please. Embra tried Myreside, have left, not going back. Bring back Dan P as a planning consultant. At least he could kick the guff into touch.

  4. Hmmm….Only watched first half, but doesn’t look like I missed much. Edinburgh reminded me of watching England…automatons going through their “processes” regardless of the circumstances.

    I guess getting these processes in place has led to the relative success this season but it leaves Edinburgh vulnerable against “smart” teams who are willing to play more openly.

    Cardiff played smart and it worked.

  5. Never has the cliche about not knowing whether to laugh or cry been more apt – I really didn’t. Some of that was comedy gold. I don’t think SHC and Duncan Weir are necessarily the future of Edinburgh rugby, but you don’t watch the last few weeks and think Fowles and van Der Walt are the ones who should be staying.

  6. The thing is, as bad as Edinburgh were (extremely), Cardiff got lucky that MR allowed them to play offside all night, that Fowles was a total numpty, that Kinghorn didn’t deal with a standard kick and that neither Edinburgh captain pressured MR to issue a second yellow card. Edinburgh could have won that in the last 20 minutes, albeit undeservedly, if they’d shown a little composure and nous. Cockers is right in his assessment: they buckled under a wee bit of pressure.

    Also, how Fowles is still starting, or even employed, is beyond me. I’ve not seen a half-decent performance from him all season. Even if you take his magnificent try assist out of the equation, his insanely slow service from rucks amplified the effects of Cardiff’s perpetual offside defence and contributed to Edinburgh failing to build momentum. If Edinburgh has someone like George Horne (or even SHC) starting tonight… It’s not Fowles’ fault they lost, but he seemed to contribute to the loss more than any of his teammates.

    All that said, Cardiff played as a team and wanted it more, and they played the ref well, so there’s no denying that they were deserved victors. Odd how Wilson’s sacking has galvanised them.

  7. Cardiff have been underperforming for a long time. It was predicted Cardiff would rise last season. They made a number of signings including Nick Williams however they never got out of third gear. They have not fulfilled that potential yet, however definately a side on the up and a good run in this competition is their confidence building platform .

    In short , they wanted it more and have put their efforts into progression. Edinburgh are a bit stuck in the middle between league and cup and that confussed focus showed, IMO.

  8. I thought Edinburgh played poorly and didn’t deserve to win. Cardiff played well, but Reynal ruined the game with his fussy interpretation of the breakdown.

    I watched 3 games this weekend where the referees greatly affected the games; Reynal didn’t allow the Edinburgh v Cardiff game to flow, Owens had made a decision in the Munster v Toulon game then let the TMO talk him round to award a try for Murray, and Barnes and his TMO missed a blatant forward pass by Dan Carter for Racing’s 2nd try, then disallowed Grosso’s try for Clermont after mucroanalysing the replays. Too much reliance on replays and not enough conviction by the refs to just make a decision.

  9. I don’t know the answer. But murrayfield is a disaster. It’s terrible. It completely negates home advantage. Also I have to agree Fowles was terrible. What has happened to SHC?

  10. well that was a woeful display on Saturday.

    Embarrassing is what it was and it underlined some issues I’ve felt we’ve had for a while

    First off Hodge needs to go. Our backs seem to have one tactic run it right into traffic, if its Kinghorn he does a side step, if its VDM he runs over the man. Its blunt force and we’ve gotten away with it so far but He’s out of ideas and out of his depth at this level. Cardiff had our number here from the start.

    How Fowles keeps getting picked ahead of Kennedy is beyond me…. we weren’t even at the races until he went off at the 55 min mark. Yes he has a big boot… but his box kicks are slow, telegraphed and the only thing more inaccurate was his passing. Never mind the forgetting how to sweep and take a high ball.

    The issues at 10 continue – VDW isn’t the answer. Certainly not with Fowles at SH, they’re a horrible combination lacking spark and creativity. Cardiff felt confident to drift and close down the wider channels as they knew the 1/2 backs were no threat. – as a player I think he OK, I like what he does ball in hand but he can’t kick for toffee and needs an intelligent 9.

    Yes the officials were budget, but we made Cardiff look good.

    1. I actually think Hodge has done ok considering its a whole new set-up and its cockerills first season in.

      Defense and improving the culture/skillset + finding the right players was always going to be the main goal first year, second and third year are were most teams start to complicate there attack.

      Also its been working for them so there has not been a huge amount to change up until now.

      I agree about Fowles he really need to be let go, he does not have temperament for high level pro rugby.

      Vdm prob is not the answer but he did have Fowles and a pack which was not dominant for the first time in a long time.

      Feels like games were we are on the backfoot would suit Weir more who can play the % .

      1. Any Glasgow fan will be able to tell you that as good as Weir is he doesn’t favour a flat, hard attacking style of rugby I feel that this may be Burleigh / VDM who should be left to play this game. Weir is a player for a soaking wet Friday night when we make yards through kicking and trucking the ball up.

  11. Just seen the list of 16 players leaving Edinburgh in the summer. Its a proper clear out! Interested to see who they bring in or promote. Hopefully the scouts have been scouring the world for some Scottish qualified talent and they don’t just bring in journeymen to make up the numbers. Still think they should be hanging on to Weir though.

    1. We’re only expecting to bring in a SH and probably Shoeman from the Bulls at propr as rumoured by the BBC. Otherwise I think replacements are already recruited – Barclay, Hickey, Scott, Socino. Leaves us with squad just over 40 I think.

  12. I see Hamish Watson will have the summer off to recover from a shoulder operation he’s due to undergo today. He certainly deserves a rest after all his heroics for club and country these past 18 months or so. Hoping the op and recovery go well.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion