PRO14 Round 8: Edinburgh 31-21 Scarlets

This was not the game that I expected; the introduction that I had mentally prepared defending a young inexperienced Edinburgh side and bemoaning the PRO14 playing through the autumn internationals had to be metaphorically torn into a hundred pieces and binned.

Not only was my pre-match prediction about the nature of the game confounded, but I also thought it would see a poor turnout given the amount of rugby that was on offer this weekend but the official attendance of 5,037 exceeds our last season average of 4,399 and was the biggest attendance at BT Murrayfield in the league this season to date.

The attendees must have known something was brewing, because they  were treated to a highly entertaining match that the home side looked right up for, right from the off.

There were only three minutes on the clock and Edinburgh had already turned the ball over at a Scarlets lineout, taken their own quick lineout, Hickey made a huge miss pass and then Pyrgos dinked a chip into the Scarlets goal area which Duhan Van Der Merwe only just failed to convince the TMO he had scored from.

The home fans didn’t have long to wait until the first real score however. Edinburgh secured a lineout on the 5 metre line and the forwards executed an efficient maul. Bill Mata peeled off the back to get the try. Simon Hickey kicked the conversion.

Edinburgh turned the ball over from the kick off but Scarlets standoff Dan Jones missed the straightforward penalty and from the following 22 drop out Blade Thomson’s head made contact with Callum Hunter-Hill’s knee and he was stretchered off after a long medical intervention. Scarlets later reported he was ok but it must be assumed that this will have put his potential Scotland debut in the coming weeks at risk.

A few minutes later Edinburgh were defending on the 22 metre mark. Hickey slipped off a tackle on Scarlets centre Kieran Fonotia which gave winger Morgan Williams room to run in for a try in the corner. Jones kicked the difficult conversion to level the scores.

Edinburgh continued to have the bulk of the possession and territory with some strong running and got their next score on the 22 minute mark. They went through the forwards for a few phases before Pyrgos passed to his right to Hickey. A quick pass from him gave Chris Dean some room to pass to the rampaging Bill Mata who was stopped only a couple of metres short of the line. He offloaded in the tackle to Tom Brown who still had some work to do. He stepped left to beat one defender and then crashed through the despairing tackle of the Scarlets winger to score in the corner. Hickey was unable to convert this one leaving the score at 12-7.

On the run up to their next try Edinburgh racked up 24 phases before being awarded a penalty right under the Scarlets posts. Perhaps indicative of the confidence in the way they were playing they declined the easy three points and elected to scrum. Mata picked from the base of the scrum and passed to Pyrgos who in turn popped the ball to Chris Dean. He took the ball close to the line with yet another strong run from him. One more pick and go and the forwards recycled the ball. Pyrgos threw a looping pass to Brown to score his second try of the night but Hickey had no luck with the conversion.

The last action of the half, a clever kick through from Dan Jones allowed Paul Asquith to score a simple try which Jones then converted.

Memories of another recent match where first half dominance wasn’t replicated on the scoreboard came flooding back.

Half-time: Edinburgh 17  Scarlets 14 

Scarlets probably had their best period in the match after half time. They had much more possession and territory and some concerted pressure which led to a series of penalties against the home side. Simon Hickey was the unlucky recipient of the yellow card for the repeated infringements.

Scarlets opted for the scrum and from the first phase that followed Johnny McNicholl stepped past Juan Pablo Socino, who had replaced Dean at half time, to score. Jones with the extras made put Scarlets into the lead.

The nerves should really have set in at this point as the scenario was all too familiar but it didn’t feel like it from the atmosphere in the stadium. Neither was there any sign of it from the players who wound down the remainder of the sin bin period with 15 phases on the Scarlets try line which ended with a short range score by Pierre Schoeman. In Hickeys absence  Socino kicked the conversion to make the score Edinburgh 24 Scarlets 21 and secure the bonus point as Hickey returned to the field.

Scarlets last real chance in the match came around the 62nd minute. They won a ruck on the centre line and attacked down the left. Kieran Fonotia slipped out of a tackle by Fife and looked clear down the wing but Ross Ford, seemingly oblivious of his age and the fact that it was the Scarlets centre he was chasing, caught him and prevented an almost certain try.

The full five points were secured for certain in the 74th minute. Edinburgh had quite maturely run the clock down with a lineout and a put together a driving maul deep in the Scarlets 22 that led to a yellow card for the Scarlets replacement Simon Gardiner.  They kicked the penalty for another lineout and when the maul that followed was stopped just short Bill Mata rounded out yet another fine performance by diving over the top like a quarterback to ground the ball despite the despairing efforts of the Scarlets defence.

This was a fine win by any standards. There were great performances all over the park but in particular the senior players left available appeared to take Richard Cockerill’s plea for them to step up to heart, and they led the team superbly.

Simon Hickey, who took some criticism last week for being too deep at first receiver really seemed to take the ball to the line much more and varied his attacks throughout. Pyrgos picked the right passes at the crucial moments and despite shouts from the crowd to speed it up I thought his box kicking and game management were out of the top drawer. Chris Dean ran some great lines in the first half and Tom Brown took his tries well.

The forwards all put in a huge shift and I could wax lyrical about all of them but it probably suffices to say that on the night you’d be hard pressed to know that this was an Edinburgh pack missing at least 7 players who would be nailed on starters.

The more churlish might point to the 3 tries that Edinburgh conceded and their tendency to relinquish a hard fought lead but this correspondent is a glass half full kind of guy and I’ll take this kind of win, in all the circumstances that surround it, all week and twice on a Sunday.

Referee: Ben O’Keefe (NZ )

SRBlog Man of the Match: As already mentioned there were great performances all over the park from Edinburgh with Pierre Schoeman and Simon Hickey featuring heavily in my thoughts but when Bill Mata plays like he did in this match Edinburgh rarely come unstuck so once again the big Fijian thoroughly deserves the plaudits.

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Edinburgh supporter and former tighthead whose clubs include Edinburgh Wanderers, Corstorphine, Lothian & Borders Police and The Co-optimists. I’m a much better player now than I ever was when I actually took to the field.
Follow Sandy on twitter @bigparahandy

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