There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth on Friday afternoon when, firstly, a much-changed Edinburgh team was announced and then, secondly, a Leinster side stocked to the brim with first-choice Irish internationalists dropped into our laps and laptops like a breezeblock wrapped in a tricolour.
It did look like a daunting prospect, especially as the Edinburgh picks gave the impression that Cockers had one eye instead on their upcoming two home games. The Edinburgh starting XV included 8 full Scottish Internationalists but with nine changes from their win against Connacht last week this was very much a second choice side.
The early stages of the game were all about defence. Leinster racked up 29 consecutive phases leading up to the 11th minute when Edinburgh gave away a penalty, but the Dublin side couldn’t capitalise from the resultant lineout with Sean Kennedy eventually clearing.
In the following minutes Dougie Fife made a hash of a kick after a mark, and from the scrum and Leinster lineout that followed Edinburgh looked like they had won a turnover near the halfway line. From the following ruck Kennedy’s box kick was charged down by Devon Toner who chased it down to within a few cm of the Edinburgh try line. Quick ball from the ruck saw Fergus McFadden cross for the opening try. The 2 points were kicked by Johnny Sexton: 7-0.
Edinburgh then had some sustained pressure deep within the Leinster 22 and racked up 35 phases within the forwards before Leinster were caught offside. Edinburgh declined the easy 3 points from the penalty and kicked to the corner. From the lineout, Jamie Ritchie coughed up the ball allowing Leinster to clear.
Just before half-time a lineout on Edinburgh’s 22 metre line that had initially been awarded to them was reversed after the intervention of the TMO. Leinster won it comfortably and after some good interchanges involving Sexton and Jordan Larmour the ball found its way to James Lowe (across from the left wing) who scored in the corner. The conversion was missed.
Edinburgh had 60% Possession and 61% territory in this half but the difference was that when Leinster got a chance you believed they might score. Edinburgh were robust, but lacked the cutting edge that Leinster had in spades.
Half-time: Leinster 12-0 Edinburgh
After the break it was Leinster that started on the front foot but it was Edinburgh that got the first score. Duhan Van Der Merwe, using the strength we’ve become accustomed to, broke through a few tackles around the halfway line before popping it left to Chris Dean. He made good ground but was stopped just short of the Leinster line by a great tackle from Larmour. Edinburgh retained possession and moved the ball quickly through a couple of phases before Bradbury forced his way over with an outstretched hand to open the Edinburgh account. Jaco Van Der Walt added the extra 2.
Almost straight from the restart it looked like Leinster had scored through Larmour but the TMO ruled that the last pass to Lowe from Van Der Flier was forward.
Edinburgh’s relief was short-lived.
At the set piece their scrum disintegrated giving Leinster a penalty and from the following lineout some simple passing, and some uncharacteristically poor defence in the Edinburgh midfield saw Larmour score under the posts. Sexton added the two points and Leinster were stretching their lead.
The capitulation at that scrum was clearly enough for Cockerill who immediately replaced Dell and Berghan with Pierre Schoeman and Murray McCallum.
Leinster removed any residual doubt about the result in the 65th minute. Under pressure, Edinburgh gave away 3 penalties followed by a scrum on their own 5 metre line. The scrum broke up once with Tadgh Beirne gesticulating, wrongly in my opinion, that it had been Schoeman that had caused it. From the reset Leinster moved the ball up the short side and Sexton scored in the corner. He converted his own try to make it Leinster 26, Edinburgh 7.
Settled result or not, Edinburgh continued to try and attack and looked to have secured a penalty close to the Leinster try line but the TMO became involved again having seen some Edinburgh foul play. The review showed that whilst in possession Schoeman had led with the elbow and made contact with the head of Dan Leavy. The referee adjudged that the force used was excessive and sent the Edinburgh loosehead off permanently.
Edinburgh might have left the RDS with a consolation score in the dying minutes after making good progress within the Leinster 22 but a dropped ball led to a turnover and Leinster advantage. They duly used that advantage to go the length of the field to score their fifth try through Garry Ringrose. The conversion was missed but that was scant consolation for the visitors.
There can be no doubt that this was a fair result. Edinburgh huffed and puffed and had plenty of possession but didn’t appear to have the key to unlock Leinster never mind know how to use it. Leinster’s galacticos had no such issues.
There will be some who will question the Edinburgh team selection, but can anyone who falls into that category honestly say they would have won with a top line selection? Even losing Schoeman to a red card and potentially Jaco Van Der Walt to return to play protocols may now prove costly in upcoming games Edinburgh must win.
Of course this selection and result is only justifiable if Edinburgh get those wins in the next two weeks. If not, you can imagine that some pressure may come to bear on Richard Cockerill’s decisions.
There should be no complaints about referee Dan Jones overall officiating or about Schoeman’s sending off specifically. It could be considered harsh as Leavy was leaning in and Schoeman’s arm wasn’t actually high but the combination of those two things meant there was contact with Leavy’s head. By the letter of the law that is a red card and for the protection of players from brain injury it has to be. There is a wider argument to be had about who should have responsibility for player safety in such circumstances, but that is for another day.
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: a hard one when you lose and really deserved nothing from the game but in a game where Edinburgh’s starting forwards made an average of 14 tackles, Luke Hamilton made 18, conceded no penalties and made 20 runs so he gets the nod.