Tale of two teams as Edinburgh secure morale-boosting victory
‘Second-string’ are too strong for Irish
THERE is only so much one can read into pre-season matches, but the ability of what resembled Edinburgh’s second-string to rein in London Irish in the second half last night and finish them off will have given coach Rob Moffat something to think about before the Magners League launches next week.
The Edinburgh coach had spoken in the week of not naming a starting lineup as he effectively wanted all the players involved to believe they were equal in the running for the starting jersey in next week’s league opener at Cardiff. That was blown out of the water when the side did take to the park, however, as there was a distinct and strong ‘1st XV’ look about the team. Sadly, for the home supporters, despite some bright enterprise and a fine early try by Chris Paterson, they went into the interval 14-5 down as London Irish revealed a sharper ability to finish opportunities.
Edinburgh left out Andrew Kelly (calf), James King (heel), Esteban Lozada (back) and Steven Turnbull (back) to give them more time to recover for next week’s trip to Wales, while Irish made just three changes to the side that was in the Principality last weekend, beating Newport Gwent Dragons 33-20.
But, after some bright bursts and good defensive work in the opening stages, Paterson opened the scoring with ten minutes played in a move that revealed the value of the side’s experienced heads. Mike Blair, again looking sharp around the base of the scrum and ruck, took a quick tap-penalty and found Paterson flying up in support. The full-back’s pace and angle of run took him careering onto Blair’s pass and past Delon Armitage, and the 32year-old had plenty left in the tank to reach the line despite a mad scramble of defenders grasping at his back.
His conversion veered on to the right-hand post and came back but with, Craig Hamilton stealing Irish lineout ball, Mark Robertson bouncing off fearsome double hits from the visitors and summer signing Netani Talei, the Fijian No 8, offering a strong presence going forward there was much for the Edinburgh fans to be excited about.
Blair superbly caught out the Irish defence with a neat jink in behind just inside his own half and had centre Alex Grove, roaring up in support, held the pass a second try was on, but the ball went to ground in one of several examples of the hosts’ pre-season rustiness.
Flanker Alan MacDonald sparked another fine break, but the Premiership side were proving adept at scrambling in defence. A powerful side in attack as well, they revealed an ability to finish on the half-hour mark, a break in midfield sucking Edinburgh’s defence in tight and, although Grove initially denied a three-on-one overlap Topsy ojo, the England winger, sprung through a gap and beat tackles to dive over the line.
Ryan Lamb, the stand-off, converted, and just two minutes from half-time he was on the mark again when Irish drove a lineout from a penalty, and their new academy signing, wing Marland Yarde, burst from the ruck to dart over.
The second half was almost like a new game as Edinburgh sent on 13 substitutes, only locks Fraser McKenzie and Craig Hamilton staying on, and then added the final 14th replacement, Stirling County product Grant Gilchrist just 12 minutes in for Hamilton. Irish were not so radical, but did use their sizeable bench through the second half to further hinder attempts to find a rhythm.
The ‘new’ Edinburgh team were a bit more direct and, in Lee Jones, had a finisher. The winger signed from Selkirk reacted quickest to some loose play after a neat chip-and-chase by David Blair on the hour to outpace the cover and score in the left-hand corner, and Blair duly converted. After a period where the tempo dropped, Edinburgh stormed back to life in the final five minutes, the forwards driving hard and retaining possession well in front of the visitors’ posts and it paid off with Jones again the hero.
Ross Rennie and Tom Brown made good dents before the wing popped up on the right to take a slick pass and cruise into the corner. Blair brought the crowd to its feet with another towering conversion to put Edinburgh 19-17 up, a lead they held for the final two minutes..
Edinburgh’s Chris Paterson got his team off to a fine start with the first try against London Irish at Murrayfield