Richard Cockerill, with something akin to prescience, said last week that he’d be happy just to win: style wasn’t important and there are no points handed out for pretty rugby.
The clubs win against Cardiff on Friday night at BT Murrayfield was a clear example of winning ugly. They’ve beaten Edinburgh on the last two occasions they travelled north, so the home win was everything.
It didn’t start as if it was going to be a tedious affair. It took only 7 minutes for Charlie Shiel to make a break up the short side of a ruck deep in Edinburgh’s own half and feed Van Der Merwe who made a lot of ground as per usual. At that point I thought this could be an entertaining match.
The only real moment of note from that point was George Taylor’s charge down and gather to score the night’s solitary try.
Cardiff looked dangerous, especially down the right wing, and they were a little unlucky not to get anything from that channel. Edinburgh’s defence though has been miserly in terms of gifts in recent weeks and they were no more generous on this occasion. All Cardiff got for their effort was a brace of penalties from Edinburgh old boy Jason Tovey. They were kept scoreless in the entire second half.
So, enough about that. Five paragraphs is probably more than it deserves.
Instead, let’s take a wee look at the stats that have got Edinburgh to where they are, and what their run-in might look like.
The headline right now is that Edinburgh are top of Conference B and have been for the last 4 rounds. They have 47 points. This is more points than they have had after 13 rounds in 10 years of trying; in 6 of those years, they failed to get that many league points in total.
They have scored 44 league tries which is an average of 3.4 a game. In 2018-2019 the total was 52 tries and an average of 2.5 per game. There are 8 games left in the regular season. You’d imagine they will surpass last year’s total try count.
Four of those games are away, kicking off with a trip to South Africa to play both Kings and Cheetahs. The other two trips are to Ulster and Connacht.
The home games are, in order: Benetton, Ospreys, Munster and finally Glasgow.
The match against Munster will jump out at everyone as being huge. The Irish side are currently only 2 points behind Edinburgh. Arguably Munster have an easier run-in with perhaps only their away game v Leinster offering any other real chance of a reversal.
They will surely travel to Scotland fully loaded in an effort to overtake Edinburgh and get revenge for their defeat to Cockerill’s side earlier in the season.
Scarlets are currently third but are 10 points adrift of Edinburgh. They have difficult matches against Munster and Leinster and local derbies v Cardiff and Ospreys to contend with.
Edinburgh can finish top but it will be nip and tuck. Second is also realistic. There’s a lower probability of a disappointing third place with fourth being extremely unlikely as Connacht are a further 2 points behind Scarlets.
First is obviously the target for the luxury of a home semi-final and bypassing the quarters altogether. In that scenario, it would mean a home tie at BT Murrayfield probably against Ulster.
Second would earn Edinburgh a home quarter-final and as it stands that would be against our west coast neighbours who are currently third in Conference A. The Cheetahs however are hard on their tail.
Third, and Edinburgh will almost certainly be away to Dan McFarland’s Ulster.
You could argue that Edinburgh have been here before and have fallen by the wayside with the finish line in sight – and you’d be right. This feels different though. They are playing with a bit more freedom, they are scoring more tries (without sacrificing defence), are rotating players and are still winning games.
There is still a lot of rugby to be played but they are in prime position to mount a serious challenge.