Fal­cons paid for tight­head call, in­sists Richards

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - By Richard Bath at Mur­ray­field

In freezer-box con­di­tions, with in­ter­mit­tent bouts of lash­ing rain and a ball that seemed to have a slip­pery mind of its own, Ed­in­burgh came from 13-10 be­hind at half-time to score 21 unan­swered sec­ond-half points to win the first of two Cham­pi­ons Cup games against New­cas­tle. But de­spite dom­i­nat­ing possession and col­lect­ing a bonus point they made hard work of de­feat­ing a Fal­cons side boast­ing just a hand­ful of reg­u­lar starters and with­out a tight­head prop.

That lack of a spe­cial­ist tight­head even­tu­ally proved cru­cial, with Ed­in­burgh claim­ing a penalty try from a scrum. With all New­cas­tle’s reg­is­tered tight­heads in­jured, their re­quest for a dis­pen­sa­tion to play an un­reg­is­tered acad­emy tight­head was de­nied by tour­na­ment or­gan­is­ers EPCR. Rather than in­sist upon un­con­tested scrums, as was New­cas­tle’s right, they fielded a loose­head.

“You lose three tight­head props in 24 hours and ask for dis­pen­sa­tion to bring in an­other one, but you’re not al­lowed that, so you have to play a loose­head on the tight,” said New­cas­tle di­rec­tor of rugby Dean Richards. “It is not like play­ing a left wing on the right wing – there is a safety is­sue there and they weren’t pre­pared to ad­dress it. I was par­tic­u­larly dis­ap­pointed with that.”

With the kick-off co­in­cid­ing with a bib­li­cal del­uge, the early stages were punc­tu­ated with a rash of knock-ons and play­ers go­ing off their feet at the break­down. The Fal­cons were the first to ben­e­fit, Brett Con­non kick­ing them ahead af­ter five min­utes.

When Ed­in­burgh got a kick­able penalty shortly after­wards they in­stead booted for the cor­ner only to lose the line-out. It was a valu­able les­son for the hosts to keep it tight and drive through their for­wards. That tac­tic quickly yielded re­sults when Ed­in­burgh’s for­wards drove to the line and Henry Pyr­gos popped the ball to Hamish Wat­son, the open­side beat­ing Pe­dro Bet­ten­court and go­ing over.

With Ed­in­burgh dom­i­nat­ing possession, the home side seemed sure to ex­tend their lead, but when they dropped the ball in mid­field the Fal­cons seized their chance. The ball was spread left and Tom Arscott put Bet­ten­court away down the short side, the cen­tre slip­ping the ball to wing Adam Rad­wan, who had a straight run in for a try. When Con­non kicked the con­ver­sion, New­cas­tle went 10-7 ahead.

Ed­in­burgh im­me­di­ately won an em­i­nently kick­able penalty only for Jaco van der Walt to put it wide, al­though he atoned mo­ments later when New­cas­tle in­fringed again in front of the posts.

Yet no mat­ter how much they dom­i­nated, Ed­in­burgh laboured to draw clear and in the fi­nal play of the first half Grant Gilchrist was pe­nalised for off­side at a line-out and Con­non kicked the vis­i­tors into an un­likely 13-10 half-time lead.

With the con­di­tions steadily im­prov­ing and Ed­in­burgh’s for­wards eas­ily on top, this game was all about pa­tience and ac­cu­racy rather than in­spired off­loads. It seemed that the penny had dropped time when im­me­di­ately af­ter the break the home side’s for­wards drove to the Fal­cons line for Chris Dean to crash over and make it 15-13.

Ed­in­burgh’s for­wards were soon pound­ing on the door again. When they were awarded a penalty just five me­tres out, Blair Kinghorn shaped to kick for the cor­ner un­til san­ity re­asserted it­self and they opted for the scrum. When it went down for a sec­ond time with the hosts go­ing for­ward, ref­eree Mar­ius Mitrea had no choice but to award a penalty try.

Darcy Gra­ham al­most ex­tended Ed­in­burgh’s lead, only to just be taken into touch by a last-ditch Arscott tackle. The Mur­ray­field side were not to be de­nied though and Kinghorn col­lected a Van der Walt kick to score the fourth try and col­lect the bonus point.

“It was a good win,” said Ed­in­burgh coach Richard Cock­er­ill. “It was a one-off game with the is­sues around their front-row. We looked a bit rusty in the first half and it was a mis­er­able night, one for the un­der­dog, so it was a good five points but we won’t get car­ried away.”

Vi­tal mo­ment: Chris Dean plunges over the line from short range to give Ed­in­burgh a 15-13 lead over New­cas­tle Fal­cons

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