A domestic season high of 6661 spectators (excluding the 1872 cup) turned up at BT Murrayfield to watch Edinburgh v Leinster on Friday night. Post Six Nations withdrawal symptoms there may be but it felt good to be back at what one of my fellow supporters calls ‘his church’.
Leinster have already wrapped up Conference B and as a result, took the opportunity to rest some of their front line players. They were then further troubled by the late withdrawal of stand-off Ross Byrne. On the face of it this was a Leinster seconds but don’t be fooled by that. Their seconds are better than many first teams and averaged 77 caps a man in the starting XV. Hardly inexperienced.
Edinburgh welcomed back several of their international cohort fresh from the ultimate game of two halves and we also saw the much belated first appearance of John Barclay sans microphone.
Leinster kicked off to start the match and Edinburgh lost possession almost straight away which put the home side on the back foot. Leinster kicked an easy penalty in the 7th minute through the boot of stand-in stand-off Ciaran Crowley and dominated possession at this early juncture.
Edinburgh also had a shot at goal a few minutes later but Jaco Van Der Walt’s strike hit the right hand upright and Leinster were able to clear their lines.
On the 12th minute, Fraser McKenzie saw yellow after a lengthy TMO intervention for a tip tackle. It didn’t take long for Leinster to capitalise on their extra man advantage as Sean Cronin forced his way over for the first try of the night. Crowley missed the conversion to leave the score at 0-8 and at this point some doubt may have started to permeate the home support.
They survived the rest of McKenzie’s sin bin period though and grew into the game, dominating both possession and territory without seeming to cause any great difficulty to the Leinster defence.
The dam burst on 31 minutes when WP Nel scored his first try of the season, muscling his way over the try line following a series of rucks in the Leinster 5 metre channel. Van Der Walt made no mistake with the conversion to close the gap to a point, only for Leinster to kick another penalty a few minutes later to extend it back out.
As the half time whistle loomed Edinburgh finally put their forward dominance to good use. Attacking the southwest corner of the ground they kicked to the corner and although they made a hash of the lineout, Leinster were forced to touchdown behind their own try line, resulting in an Edinburgh scrum. Under pressure from WP Nel, Leinster’s Ed Byrne collapsed the set piece. Edinburgh played through a lengthy advantage before they came back for another scrum. Although referee Ben Whitehouse judged that this scrum failed due a slip it was clear that Nel had the upper hand in this battle. Reset number 3: Byrne collapsed the scrum again.
Edinburgh were awarded a penalty try but the referee decided (contrary to law 8.3) against issuing a yellow card to Byrne. Leinster probably got off lightly as a result.
Half-time: Edinburgh 14-11 Leinster
In what looked like a clear case of making up for the earlier error it took referee Whitehouse a mere 5 minutes of the second half to issue a yellow card to a Leinster player. Flanker Dan Leavy being the perhaps undeserved victim after being adjudged to have killed the ball at a ruck in the Leinster 22.
Edinburgh kicked to the corner from the penalty. A maul was formed and driven over the Leinster try line. Ross Ford, who was having a fine game for home side, scored the try. Van Der Walt kicked the difficult conversion to give them a decent cushion.
Edinburgh got the bonus point try on 61 minutes through Bill Mata. 29 phases of pick and drives were repelled by the Leinster defence before the big Fijian managed to force his way over supported by Fraser McKenzie. Van Der Walt kicked the conversion and as the last quarter continued Edinburgh had a 17 point lead.
That was how the game finished despite a concerted effort by Leinster in the last few minutes of the game which Edinburgh defended successfully to deny the Dublin side any points in the second half.
This was a match in which forward play dominated and it won’t have escaped anyone’s attention that Edinburgh’s wingers, usually such a potent threat, didn’t see much of the ball. Duhan Van Der Merwe specifically had zero carries. Perhaps given Edinburgh’s clear advantage in that area it was the correct approach but it was definitely one for scrum aficionados.
Along with other results going the right way on the night, the five league points could well prove to be pivotal in the team’s bid to keep their season and the momentum going heading into the Heineken Cup quarter final V Munster next weekend.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: Whilst it’s hard to argue with John Barclay being given the official award I’m giving ours to WP Nel. He scored a good forwards try and with the scrum being Edinburgh’s key attacking weapon in this match his domination of Ed Byrne was at the cornerstone of a crucial win.