Despite it being the mid Six Nations break a decent crowd, including a large contingent of happy and vocal Argentinians, showed up at BT Murrayfield for this latest round of the PRO14. It turned out to be an enjoyable, if nervy at times, match between Edinburgh – keen to maintain an unbeaten home run this season – and a Dragons side who haven’t won away since 2015.
Edinburgh kicked off to start the match but Dragons cleared their half comfortably and quickly found themselves on attack close to the Edinburgh line. A strong defensive set from the hosts kept them at bay for a few phases before a thumping tackle by Jaco van Der Walt, on his opposite number Josh Lewis, forced the turnover by Ceccarelli. That led to a penalty and Edinburgh cleared up to the halfway line.
A couple of plays later Edinburgh had a lineout halfway between the Dragons 22 and the 10 metre line. Mata, playing at scrum half, fed Chris Dean on a cracking line that dissected the Dragons defence before he was hauled down. The ball was quickly recycled a couple of times before it reached James Johnstone who danced his way through four Dragons defenders to open the scoring. Van Der Walt continued his good work from the tee to add the extras.
If that was the sublime the ridiculous was to follow as Dragons levelled the score no more than 30 seconds after the restart. They worked it up the nearside and scored what seemed like far too easy a try in the corner through Tyler Morgan.
It wasn’t long before Edinburgh regained the lead. With advantage being played after Dragons collapsed a scrum just inside their half Pyrgos picked out Darcy Graham, in off his wing, with an inside pass. He drew the defender before passing to Johnstone to score his second of the night. Van Der Der Walt made it 20/20 successful kicks for Edinburgh this season to extend the lead to 14-7.
The topsy turvy nature of the first half continued very soon after. Edinburgh looked to attack from just inside their half but Dragons were quick off the line and Tyler Morgan pounced on a somewhat lazy looking pass from Chris Dean and ran in Dragons second score of the night unopposed. Josh Lewis kicked the conversion to level the scores. A Josh Lewis penalty on the 25th minute was the last score of the half.
Half-time: Edinburgh 14-17 Dragons
Whatever Richard Cockerill said at half time it clearly galvanised the team and they started the second half at a furious pace. With only a minute gone, Dragons coughed up the ball through an unforced error and the Edinburgh backs moved the ball wide. A floated pass from Dean to Graham found the Hawick man in space. He turned on the afterburners before chipping the fullback and chasing through. He won the footrace with Dragons wing Will Talbot-Davies but the bounce of the ball in the in-goal area defeated him.
Edinburgh eventually levelled the scores in the 55th minute through a Jaco Van Der Walt penalty.
Edinburgh regained the lead just as the last quarter of the match got underway. The excellent Magnus Bradbury drove for the line off the back of a maul from a lineout on the Dragons 5 metre line. The ball was recycled for a few phases before it ended up back in Bradbury’s hands just under the posts and he was driven over the line by the supporting forwards. Van Der Walt once again kicked the conversion to give the home side a cushion.
The match was put out of Dragons grasp on the 68th minute. Edinburgh forced a turnover after a huge hit by Bradbury on Talbot-Davies. Chris Dean looped a pass to Duhan Van Der Merwe lurking on the left wing. He still had four Dragons defenders to beat but used his power to burst through three tacklers before stepping inside the last man to score. Van Der Walt had his first miss of the season off the tee to leave the score at Edinburgh 29 Dragons 17.
The coup de grace was delivered in the dying seconds of the match. The Edinburgh forwards worked through the phases in the shadow of the Dragons posts before moving the ball left. Dougie Fife drew a defender out of the line which gave Van Der Merwe an overlap to score in the corner. The try was unconverted.
A satisfactory outcome with some well worked tries and the now familiar dominant Edinburgh last 20 minutes. The bonus point was also secured and Ulster’s very narrow win at Ospreys made that a potentially crucial advantage.
If I’m being ultra-critical though Edinburgh shouldn’t be relying on that last quarter to pull them clear as the better sides they will face in the next few months as we get down to the business end of the season won’t be as generous.
A special word for veteran Ross Ford making his 200th appearance in the PRO14 (/PRO12/Magners etc). Also a British Lion and Scotland centurion. Most can only dream of such a career. If I had a pound for every time someone wrote him off I’d be a wealthy man but he had a fine game against Dragons and continues to defy the critics. When he finally decides he’s had enough I’m sure he’ll be able to look back with pride at his achievements and dedication to the Edinburgh and Scotland cause.
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: James Johnstone had a cracking game and the first of his two tries shows what the former Scotland Sevens man can do against a disorganised defence (L’équipe Française, ça vous tente?) however Magnus Bradbury is the clear winner. After 4 months out Maggie played the full 80 minutes and chased and harried Dragons around all game like St George. His own try put Edinburgh ahead and his hit on Talbot –Davies shortly after led directly to the decisive score. If he didn’t impress the watching Scotland coaching team enough to bring him back into the international squad then I’d be hugely surprised.