Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons feels last night’s solid 15-5 friendly win over Newcastle Falcons in Hawick will have given his side a significant morale boost ahead of next weekend’s RaboDirect PRO12 opener at Munster. While under no illusions about the magnitude of the task he faces next Saturday, the South African was satisfied with the outcome, saying: “It was important for the guys to put the effort and start building confidence. I believe they did that with a lot of hard work.”
While none in the bumper 4,035 Mansfield Park crowd will believe that the team is anything more than a work in progress, they saw a side that, only three weeks into Solomons’ tenure, has evidently begun a transformation from the nervy squad devoid of confidence that struggled throughout last season and is in the early stages of becoming a reinvigorated outfit.
There were impressive contributions from back-rowers Sean Cox and Dave Denton while at stand-off, Piers Francis looked more assured than at any stage during Michael Bradley’s stewardship, and Greig Tonks was impressive in his kicking from hand.
However, the most heartening aspect for the new coaching team was a composed defensive effort during lengthy spells when they came under pressure, particularly in the early minutes of the second half as they only conceded points after Nick de Luca had been sent to the sin bin. Nevertheless, while the early signs are promising, the fact that all of their points came from kicks, and the lack of try-scoring opportunities his side created, will be a cause for some concern as the RaboDirect PRO12 kick off looms.
Having already inherited a lengthy injury list that includes high-scoring winger Tim Visser and Scotland centre Matt Scott, Solomons will be hoping the knock that led to Tom Brown leaving the field on a stretcher – lock Izak van der Westhuizen had already departed by the same method – will not make him a long-term absentee.
Although billed in the match programme as a friendly, with starting slots up for grabs when the league action begins for both sides next weekend, there was no holding back – one thumping tackle by Greig Laidlaw on the man with whom he used to joust for the number 9 shirt, Mike Blair, being a case in point.
Former Edinburgh stand-off Phil Godman had missed with a close-range penalty before a high tackle on Denton by another familiar foe, Fraser McKenzie, presented Laidlaw with a 40-metre award which he despatched between the sticks to open the scoring. And the Edinburgh skipper doubled the tally with another successful kick from closer range after eight minutes.
Blair’s response was a searing break that was halted on the edge of the Edinburgh 22 and countered by Cox, whose run and kick ahead came close to unlocking the Falcons defence. But the hosts were forced to resort to the unerring boot of Laidlaw to extend their lead – this time he bisected the posts from just outside the Falcons 22 to complete the first-half scoring.
Falcons were transformed after the restart and applied incessant pressure during the third quarter. Edinburgh retained their shape and produced a magnificent effort to repel a series of assaults on their line. De Luca was shown yellow after preventing the visitors from taking a quick free kick and the short-handed hosts eventually conceded a try when they were stretched to breaking point and the ball was shipped wide to Godman who dived in at the corner. Such was the Newcastle domination that there were 64 minutes on the clock before Edinburgh had their first visit of the half to opposition territory. And they left with a three-point addition to their tally after Francis’ long-range penalty sneaked over the bar. And the stand-off clinched the win when he banged over his second successful kick of the night with four minutes left.
Scorers: Edinburgh Rugby: Pens: Laidlaw (3), Francis (2). Newcastle Falcons: Try: Godman.
Edinburgh Rugby: G Tonks, J Cuthbert, D Fife, N DeLuca, T Brown (B Atiga 51), P Francis, G Laidlaw (S Kennedy 45), A Dickinson, R Ford, WP Nel (L Niven 73), G Gilchrist, I van der Westhuizen (O Atkins 36), S Cox, R Grant (H Watson 26), D Denton.
Newcastle Falcons: T Catterick, A Higgins, D Barnes (A Tait 60), J Helleur, R Shortland, P Godman (J Hodgson 65), M Blair (W Fury 65), F Montanella (R Vickers 60), S Lawson (M Thompson 16), K Brooke (S Wilson 60), F McKenzie, S MacLeod, W Welch (M Wilson 27), A Saull (A Powell 60), A Hogg.
Referee: N Paterson.