Events on Friday night meant that Edinburgh took to the field in Port Elizabeth in full knowledge that a win, any win, would take them clear in second place in Conference B. Confidence was bound to be high in the camp following the recent qualification for the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup and then there was the 38-0 hiding they had handed to Kings at BT Murrayfield only a few short weeks ago.
What could possibly go wrong?
The first try of the match went to Kings after only 4 minutes and whilst their attack was well executed the try had its origins in an overthrown lineout in the Kings 22 followed by an unforced error from Dougie Fife. Attacking from the awarded scrum, Kings moved the ball out to the nearside wing through Basson who chipped the approaching defenders and chased the ball down to score just to the left of the posts. Banda kicked the conversion to give the home side an early lead.
Edinburgh’s response was immediate. They went through the phases within sight of the Kings try line and with the penalty advantage in hand Mata picked from the base of the ruck and passed it left to Pyrgos who found Chris Dean running a straight line inside him and the centre was able to run in the try unopposed. Van Der Walt kicked the conversion to level the scores after just 8 minutes had elapsed.
Edinburgh failed to deal with the restart and possession was surrendered to Kings who earned a penalty at a ruck only a few second later which was kicked by Masixole Banda.
At the 15 minute mark Van Der Walt kicked a penalty dead which gave Kings a scrum just outside their own 22. Edinburgh won a penalty at that scrum and over the next 6 minutes were awarded 5 penalties and a free kick all within touching distance of the Kings try line. Kings did receive a general warning and then their tighthead was warned specifically for repeated infringements. These warnings appeared to be of the – “if you don’t comply with my warning I’ll warn you again” type though and eventually an Edinburgh handling error which typified their first half performance allowed the Kings to clear their lines unharmed by either points or yellow cards.
In a rare Kings attack in the Edinburgh 22 just before halftime, Van Der Walt appeared to stumble whilst chasing back and his hand touched the shoulder of Banda who was in support of the ball carrier. The referee awarded Kings what had to be the softest of penalties for this touch and Banda converted the kick to make it Kings 13 Edinburgh 7. That’s how the score remained as the teams headed to the dressing rooms despite Edinburgh having recorded 69% possession and 72% territory in the first half.
Half-time: Southern Kings 13-7 Edinburgh
The second half started in the same vein. Edinburgh had 31 phases on the Kings try line before appearing to score just to the left of the posts with referee Jones kneeling down inches from the play, pointing at what you have to assume was the ball and signalling a try before changing his mind and asking the TMO to have a look. He correctly ruled no try but you have to ask what the ref was looking and pointing at as he signalled that a try had been scored?
You also have to ask: why at no point did Edinburgh try and move the ball further than the next forward or vary the play in any fashion whatsoever?
Around the 60 minute mark Dan Jones seemed to finally realise he had awarded 2 million penalties to Edinburgh (not really but it just felt like that) and found his yellow card which he had seemingly lost in the Mariana Trench and sent Kings wing forward CJ Velleman to the sin bin for collapsing a maul.
Edinburgh opted to scrum from the penalty that followed and after another couple of resets Kings collapsed it again and Jones gave Edinburgh a penalty try to put the visitors in the lead.
As the sin bin period expired Edinburgh kicked to the corner following yet another penalty that Kings had conceded. A maul ensued and this time it was executed correctly with Ross Ford coming up with the ball and the score. Van Der Walt Kicked the conversion to extend Edinburgh’s lead.
With the clock at 72 minutes that should have been the match, but alas no.
From the restart Edinburgh cleared the ball to the halfway line but Kings attacked up the open side. A lovely offload in the tackle from Kings substitute Meli Rokoua found winger Yaw Penxe in space. He was tackled by Simon Hickey just inside the Edinburgh 22. James Johnstone was next to the breakdown and competing for the ball. Referee Jones blew up almost immediately adjudging that Johnstone had been off his feet, had cynically held up play and he yellow carded the Edinburgh man.
This felt at the time and on reflection to be a harsh decision as Johnstone appeared to be on his feet the whole time and in fact had worked quite hard to ensure he had entered the ruck from the correct position. Nevertheless Kings took full advantage, kicked to the corner, mauled and then scored through Bader Pretorius who crashed over through some pretty weak Edinburgh tackling. Banda kicked the conversion and the game was finely balanced at Kings 20 Edinburgh 21.
Hickey kicked the restart to the opposition 5 yard line and Kings chose to run the ball. It was moved to Rokuoa who beat two tackles before a tap tackle from Ally Miller just short of the halfway line took the feet from under him but in true Fijian style he offloaded to Penxe as he fell who was able to outstrip the despairing Edinburgh defence to score in the corner. Rokuoa’s offload, sweet as it was, was arguably forward but referee Jones in keeping with his overall performance declined to review it and the try stood.
Banda missed the conversion and Edinburgh failed to regain possession from the kick off, and that was that.
Let me be clear, despite dominating almost every statistic except the one that mattered Edinburgh were dreadful. They failed to adapt to Kings cynically poor approach to scrummaging and were so one dimensional that if they turned sideways they would have been invisible. They also committed more handling errors in this one match than they probably had in the last seven and passed up several kickable penalties that might have changed the flow of the game. That said Dan Jones refereeing bordered on the bizarre. Kings failed to scrummage properly once during the entire match and conceded 18 penalties at scrum and maul time most of which were on their own line yet only one yellow card was shown to them.
Again, to repeat Edinburgh were poor. They were naive and they lacked effective leadership but when your complete dominance at scrum time is being entirely negated by poor officiating then it is going to be an uphill battle and as it turned out it was a battle Edinburgh were not prepared for.
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: He was only on the field for 16 minutes but Meli Rokuoa‘s offloads that led to the Kings last two tries were sumptuous and in the absence of any performances within Edinburgh’s ranks of note I’m giving him the award. Were the award for the most influential person on the pitch, well …