In what was being described as Safari night in Scotland the Cheetahs made their first visit to BT Murrayfield to take on Edinburgh, in a cross-conference match that almost everyone had suggested in advance would be a high scoring try festival.
What transpired was indeed try-laden, but to describe it as a festival would have been stretching the point.
Two early penalties from Simon Hickey seemed to suggest that Edinburgh had learned some ‘just take the points’ type lessons from earlier matches this season.
They then had a fair bit of possession and territory without troubling the scoreboard further until the 21st minute. A Cheetahs lineout was disrupted by good work from Grant Gilchrist and Edinburgh were awarded a scrum inside the Cheetahs 22. Good hands by the backs took the team to the 5 yard mark and after a couple of pick and goes, Ben Toolis forced his way over near the posts for the first try of the match. Simon Hickey kicked the conversion to make it Edinburgh 13 Cheetahs 0.
Cheetahs lived up to their counterattacking reputation in the 34th minute. Deep in their own 22 they turned it over and fed the ball quickly out the nearside to the speedy Sibahle Maxwane who beat two defenders before a fantastic tackle from Duhan Van Der Merwe caught him a few metres short of the try line. Unfortunately, he managed to offload in the tackle to Nico Lee to score. Stand-off Tian Schoeman added the 2 points. Edinburgh 13 Cheetahs 7.
As often happens (not just to Scottish teams) Cheetahs then surrendered possession straight from the restart which led to an Edinburgh scrum right under the South African posts. A couple of phases drew the defence in just enough to allow winger Darcy Graham to score unopposed in the corner. Hickey continued with his excellent form off the tee to add the conversion.
Edinburgh dominated the first half of this match both territorially (72%) and in terms of possession (65%) and should have put the game out of sight then, but they were profligate and inaccurate in attack and as the whistle went for half-time there were just 13 points in it.
Half-time: Edinburgh 20-7 Cheetahs
The inaccuracies that left the game in the balance came home to roost in the early stages of the second half.
Sibahle Maxwane got Cheetahs second try when, playing an advantage after an offside, they moved the ball at pace to the winger. The Edinburgh defence was slightly narrow and that left enough room for him to cross over in the corner. Schoeman kicked the conversion narrowing the gap to six points.
Cheetahs then took the lead and Maxwane got his second try to complete a poor ten minute spell for the hosts. Cheetahs worked their way deep into Edinburgh’s 22 with a series of phases and this time the winger came inside to drive through some ineffectual tackling to score. Another Schoeman conversion gave the Cheetahs a one point lead.
Their slender lead was short-lived as a straightforward Hickey penalty about two minutes later made it Edinburgh 23 Cheetahs 21.
Edinburgh’s next try came after some sustained pressure led to Cheetahs collapsing a maul, and then a ruck. Referee Marius Mitrea warned them about repeated infractions before the next phase saw Stuart McInally being held up over the line. A further warning was given to Cheetahs at the resultant collapsed scrum. It was reset, and perhaps with the threat of a yellow card looming, the Cheetahs defence was a bit passive. Bill Mata picked up from the scrum and drove over whilst fending off a couple of tacklers, Hickey with the extra points.
There were three minutes left on the clock when Edinburgh were awarded another penalty following a high tackle on Stuart McInally that led to a yellow card for Cheetahs Charles Marais and the Scotland hooker replaced by Ross Ford. With a two-score margin and an extra man, Edinburgh declined the easy 3 points and kicked to the corner to chase the try bonus point.
For what seemed like the first time this season the driving maul was executed perfectly; replacement Jamie Ritchie coming up with the ball for Edinburgh’s fourth try and the bonus. Fittingly, Simon Hickey kept his 100% record from the tee to convert that one too.
In the cold light of day this may look like a routine win but it never felt like it within the stadium and when Edinburgh let slip yet another lead early in the second half it felt like the story of the season so far would be repeated. Credit to them though, as they dug back in and finished the game with an unanswered 17 points and the try bonus.
With Ulster falling to Munster at The Kingspan, Edinburgh finished the weekend up to fourth in Conference B with 16 pts. After 6 games in 2017/2018 season they had 14 points and were also fourth so after the difficult start they’ve had this year it’s hard not to be quietly satisfied to be in about the same position, whilst acknowledging that it’s still a work in progress.
Europe next. Let’s go!
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR)
SRBlog Man of the Match: Simon Hickey had a great game at 10 dictating and varying the play. He also had a 100% record from the tee and topped the tackle stats for Edinburgh’s backs. The award, however, has to go to wrecking ball Bill Mata. Just the 20 carries for 113 Metres this week, a fantastic try which highlighted his strength and some big tackles. There was even an attempted offload to Darcy Graham. He limped off in the dying stages of the game to a richly deserved round of applause. Fingers, toes and various appendages are all crossed in the hope he is fit for Montpellier next week.