DUMB RUGBY GIVES EDINBURGH THE BLUES
Edinburgh Rugby: 17 (7) Cardiff Blues: 18 (6)
At a damp and windy Mon Repos last night, one team got on the wrong side of referee David Wilkinson from the off, played 20 minutes short-handed, failed to use the significant following wind to their advantage in the first period, went nowhere in attack and at one point in the second half were 17-6 down and almost certainly out.
Yet that same team refused to be beaten. They dug in and patiently worked themselves back into the match, edging into the lead with eight minutes left. They then had the smarts and the assurance in defence to close this one out, withstanding repeated phases to come away with a narrow but well deserved victory.
That team was the Cardiff Blues.
There is a certain inevitability about the Embra emotional implosion at the moment. They have lost their last four PRO12 matches but have picked up three losing bonus points. Frankly, last night they should also have had a try bonus. They go through periods of domination and almost total control. They shut down Cardiff danger man Nick Williams and kept that impressive young full back Matthew Morgan doing flashy things, but well away from the red zone. For much of the second half, it looked like Sam Hidalgo-Clyne was the Sam of two seasons ago, not least in the brilliant conception of the Gunners’ third and final try, notched by Scholes.
But when they should have been chasing the bonus with a whole quarter to go, they switched off completely and allowed the Blues to nick this one.
They are not being beaten. They are beating themselves.
And they are doing it playing dumb rugby. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
The Embramen did well in the first half playing into the strengthening wind in poor conditions. While they probably should have been more than 7-6 up having played against 14 men for 20 minutes, they were about to have the wind at their backs, they were strong in scrummage and lineout and dominating the breakdown, with One Man Wrecking Ball Jamie Ritchie having a great evening.
All they needed to do was to pin the Blues in their half and the chances would come. Edinburgh’s first try, for Cochrane off a driving maul, had come after the Blues had been repeatedly penalised for multiple offences around the maul. Peikrishvili had been carded for his contribution after only 15 minutes. That was inevitably going to put the visitors on the back foot with their maul defence for the rest of the evening.
Yet while the Gunners did try to do the right thing, their execution was often poor. Their decision making was worse. When they went behind, with five minutes left on the clock, they won a penalty wide out on the Cardiff 10. The sensible thing to do would have been kick to the corner, rumble the maul and at least milk the penalty. Instead Kinghorn was asked to have what, even with the wind behind him, was a difficult, speculative pot at goal.
And when the Embramen won ball back in the dying seconds, they lacked the go forward to make any progress against the Blues’ defence. In the same situation, Munster would have patiently built the phases, cranking up the pressure until eventually a tiring defender made a mistake. It is not basic skills that are the issue, nor, increasingly, the ambition in their approach. The problem is a lack of patience, discipline and common sense.
In the first half, Cochrane’s converted try was answered by two Steve Shingler penalties. In the second, a quickfire brace from Rory Scholes on 50 and 55 minutes looked to have the Gunners home and hosed. His first was a super effort off set piece, with the ball being shifted right and Blairhorn’s superbly timed pass putting his man in space. There was plenty still to do, mind, and the Ulsterman flummoxed the visitors’ back three to cross in the corner.
His second was even more pleasing on the eye. The Embramen had worked the phases to a couple of metres from the line on the left. There was a distinctly narrow narrow side and it looked like SHC was going to ship the ball back infield from the breakdown. But the feisty half-back saw only Halaholo guarding the corner and slipped a lovely pass to Scholes to dive over.
But Cardiff came back as the Gunners increasingly slipped off tackles. Firstly, Man of the Match Sione Bennett crossed on the hour. Then Lloyd Williams was first to the ball in the in-goal area with referee WIlkinson playing advantage for an Edinburgh infringement on 72 minutes. Though the conversion was missed, Cardiff had the narrow lead and simply refused to give it up.
That is a skill the Embramen need to develop.