In the opening weekend of the new PRO14 season Edinburgh took on Zebre at BT Murrayfield. It was different for a couple of reasons.
Firstly because it was the first of many Saturday evening fixtures for the capital side and that hasn’t gone down too well in certain quarters. More importantly, it was different because they comprehensively took apart a side that has caused them quite a bit of angst over the last few seasons and ran out 50-15 winners.
The Embramen made a perfect start with Fraser McKenzie going over for a pushover try after only 6 minutes. Then before the end of the first quarter Mark Bennett scored the first of his three tries on the night following a neat chip through by new Edinburgh captain Nic Groom making his competitive debut for the club.
Zebre’s only response during this period was a penalty from the boot of stand-off Francois Brummer . They did however flicker briefly into life just after Bennetts effort as no.8 Giovanni Licata chased his own charge down of Grooms attempted clearance kick to score. A quick check with the TMO confirmed he had got the required touch just inside the dead ball line.
Edinburgh only took another couple of minutes before they re-established a two score lead. A scintillating run from Duhan Van Der Merwe, who cut inside before passing to Nic Groom who had a straightforward run to score under the posts.
Matt Scott was next on the scoresheet following a nice dummy and inside pass from Mark Bennett. The bonus point was now secured.
Jaco Van Der Walt kicked all 4 conversions in the first half and the score at HT was
HT: Edinburgh 31-8 Zebre
Mark Bennett’s second try of the night came in the 49th minute when he came from deep and burst through some weak Zebre tackling to score.
Zebre rallied over the next period and had a slight majority in possession and territory. They didn’t trouble the scoresheet again however until the 71st minute when back row substitute Federico Mori, making his competitive debut for the Parma side ran in a fine individual try from the Edinburgh 10 metre line.
In the last 9 minutes Edinburgh reasserted their dominance with a further two tries. The first came from a lovely Charlie Shiel break that released Mark Bennett for his hat trick. The second and last try of the night had a touch of the Finn Russells about it. Simon Hickey, on for Van Der Walt who had had a fine match, unleashed a pinpoint accurate crossfield kick. That was gathered by Jamie Farndale to score in the corner. Hickey was unable to add the two but the try had brought up the half-century for Edinburgh.
Edinburgh 50 – 15 Zebre
Round 2 came exactly a week later as Edinburgh travelled to Cardiff. They were dealt a blow on the run-up when Matt Scott failed a late fitness test and was replaced in the starting XV by George Taylor.
Cardiff Blues: M Morgan; Lane, G Smith, Halaholo, Summerhill; J Evans, L Williams; Thyer, Belcher, Arhip, S Davies, Thornton, Turnbull, Robinson, N Williams (capt).
Replacements: Dacey, Domachowski, Andrews, Lewis-Hughes, Boyde, L Jones, Tovey, Millard.
Edinburgh: Hoyland, Farndale, Bennett, Scott, Van der Merwe, Van der Walt, Groom (capt); Schoeman, Willemse, Ceccarelli, McKenzie, Douglas, Carmichael, Crosbie,Haining.
Replacements: Fenton, Bhatti, McCallum, Kunavula, Miller, Shiel, Hickey, Taylor.
The match itself was a cagey affair. Edinburgh were first on the board through Jaco Van Der Walt who kicked 2 penalties in the first 9 minutes. That early lead was tempered by a yellow card being shown to Fraser McKenzie who was judged to be offside twice in quick succession close to the Edinburgh line. Cardiff capitalised on that sanction a few minutes later. They moved the ball quickly to winger Owen Lane in space who crossed for a straightforward try. They were unable to add the extras however and the scoreline remained tight, within a single point.
Just as McKenzie regained the field it was Cardiff’s turn to see a player sent from the field: second row Seb Davies up-ended Lewis Carmichael at a ruck. It was spotted by the assistant referee and after the TMO review Frank Murphy decided that it wasn’t dangerous and let him away with a yellow. Lucky boy.
Edinburgh couldn’t make the extra man count in the 10 minutes that followed and only an exchange of penalties added to the respective totals as the half drew to a close.
HT: Cardiff Blues 11-9 Edinburgh
If the first half was bitty then the second half was bitty to the power of 10. Both defences held up well with only another brace of penalties puncturing the near deadlock, increasing the points tally but still the sides were separated by no more than a point.
On 73 minutes however George Taylor was released by Jaco van der Walt after Edinburgh snaffled a loose Cardiff kick. Taylor made a good run into the Cardiff 22 with Mark Bennett in support. He slipped the ball to his fellow centre to exploit the overlap and Bennett scored under the posts. Van der Walt kicked the conversion to give Edinburgh an eight-point lead with only just over 5 to play which proved the deciding score.
FT: Cardiff Blues 11 Edinburgh 19
After two weeks Edinburgh are two wins from two. One they had to grind out and defend well to do it and the other was a canter. The Cardiff game, in particular, they would probably have lost last season. It’s not novel as we’ve managed that in 3 of the last 4 years. However only once in the last 6 years (2015) have we managed more than 2 wins in the first 5 games so it’s encouraging that we’ve reached that total so early.
Sterner tests await in the next three with Leinster next up at the RDS. Scarlets at home and then Benetton away to round out the opening five fixtures.
Man Of The Match: In week one the official award was given to Mark Bennett. With a hat trick and performance to match, that was only right. Jaco van der Walt however was at the heart of everything Edinburgh did that was good and if he hadn’t been hooked at 57 minutes would probably have got my vote. Against Cardiff he had another stormer. On this occasion my view coincided with the official choice of Jaco so it’s all good.