Falcons paid for tighthead call, insists Richards
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