Edinburgh Rugby finally got a monkey off their back and provided a boost ahead of next week’s European Cup quarter-final at home to Toulouse with a hard earned 26-23 victory over Llanelli Scarlets at Murrayfield.
Had Edinburgh lost this one not only would it have been their 100th defeat in what is now called the Rabo Direct Pro 12 League but a colossal case of foot-shooting with Scarlets having been reduced to 13 men at one stage due to the sin-binning of visitors Deacon Manu and Matthew Rees a minute apart just before half time.
But there is no need to dwell on that statistic for although Edinburgh did tread water at times and survived a missed penalty in front of the posts by Stephen Jones (917 Test points) they took inspiration from flanker Dave Denton in particular to post their first win in the competition since early December, a run of eight without success. As for the performance, coach Michael Bradley said: “It was looking comfortable at half time and awful with 15 minutes to go. On balance I am happy with the win.
“We played some very good rugby in the first half showing a lot of composure in defence and attack.
“In the second half we reversed the process although they had a very good ten minutes when down to 13 men. We tended to overplay the ball instead of building phases but there was character shown in the second half to get the win.
“We just need to get composure for the full 80 minutes against Toulouse.
“We got the win but we also have plenty to work on.”
Denton, who was named man of the match, has been compared to a human threshing machine as he surges forward with arms flailing and legs pumping; this was evident from the off and the six-times capped star gave himself the perfect springboard with his third try for the club. That came after Greig Laidlaw had slotted two penalties in response to an opener from Rhys Priestland.
A penalty into the corner saw the line-out won and after Grant Gilchrist had tied in the defence with a fierce drive the ball was moved out for Ross Rennie to slip an inside pass which enabled Denton to touch down at the base of the post, Laidlaw converting for 13-3 by the 21st minute.
Edinburgh were keeping a close watch on powerhouse Welsh wing George North but a series of high kicks by his grand slam colleague, Rhys Priestland, kept home full back Tom Brown on his toes.
Brown pulled off one particularly fine catch but by the half hour he was temporarily off the field, cut in a midfield collision with Sione Timani enabling Jim Thompson to come on as a blood sub.
While Brown was being led from the field Priestland cut the deficit with a penalty and when the next chance arose at the other end Edinburgh kicked to the corner only to surrender territory with a turnover.
Hard driving around the rucks and mauls was beginning to pay dividends notably Gilchrist, Geoff Cross, Ross Ford and Denton but there was more profligacy just after Manu was sin-binned on the stroke of half-time as a line-out throw went askew for the second time in the match. At least Edinburgh were maintaining momentum and a deliberate knock-on by Matthew Rees denied Rennie a score and saw the Scarlets skipper on his way to the sin bin.
A scrum option was the obvious restart choice and Edinburgh pressed home their advantage earning a penalty try which Laidlaw converted for 20-6 at the interval.
By the time Scarlets were restored to full strength Edinburgh, with Brown back involved, had been unable to stretch their lead though Lee Jones was only just squeezed out after being set clear by a back row ploy.
Edinburgh were made to pay by a third penalty from Priestland in 53 minutes and worse was to follow when a sharp counter saw Andy Fenby put in possession 35 metres out and the winger shrugged off despairing tackles to go round under the posts, Priestland converting.
The sudden flurry left Edinburgh grateful for a Greig Laidlaw penalty on the hour to make it 23-16 and there was no doubt that things were going Scarlets way as De Luca was forced to carry over and concede a five metre scrum. A strong scrum gave Edinburgh brief relief but a grandstand finish was set up when Rennie became the third player to be yellow carded and almost immediately Stephen Jones, who had come on as a sub and missed a straightforward penalty, broke to send Jon Davies thundering over Brown and in under the posts. Jones converted to level the scores in 67 minutes.
Edinburgh were seeing out the yellow card in Scarlets’ half and a further Laidlaw penalty restored their lead with eight minutes remaining.
The kick, which took Laidlaw’s total for Edinburgh to 261, was to prove decisive. It had been a struggle but Edinburgh were back in the winners’ enclosure.
Edinburgh’s Tom Brown and Stuart McInally picked up minor knocks but coach Bradley was satisfied they will be available to face Toulouse.