Watched by Scotland coach Vern Cotter, Edinburgh Rugby roused themselves in the final quarter to snatch an unlikely 20-20 draw with Scarlets in the Guinness Pro12 last night.
The Murrayfield outfit even had a chance to claim victory at the death, but Tom Heathcote’s penalty attempt from a foot inside the visiting half fell well short.
It was Heathcote’s only miss, having earlier converted tries by Tim Visser and sub Phil Burleigh and slotted two penalties. The storming finish could not have been in greater contrast to a lacklustre start which saw Edinburgh fall behind with less than a minute on the clock.
The gap soon opened to 3-17 but Scarlets, despite having stand-off Rhys Priestland control matters, were unable to turn the screw, even when the hosts had two yellow cards.
Damaged by a record defeat against Ospreys last time out, even a share of the spoils was vital for Edinburgh. “It’s a step in the right direction,” said centre Sam Beard, who was named man-of-the-match. “The boys are doing it for each other which is good to see. We were very disappointed with last week and knew we had to improve. We’ve got to keep improving and moving forward. We still made a few mistakes and let them in the game at crucial times.”
Only 44 seconds had elapsed before Scarlets went ahead.
A chip through from centre Gareth Owen put the home defence in all sorts of trouble, compounded by a slip from Heathcote, and winger Harry Robinson duly pounced.
Referee Lacey deferred to his video counterpart but Scarlets seemed in no doubt and – sure enough – Priestland was soon lining up a successful conversion from out wide.
It was the horror start Edinburgh had dreaded but there was some atonement in the eighth minute when the first scrum resulted in a penalty which Heathcote slotted from 45 metres.
Alas, a rush of blood by Tomas Leonardi in charging offside at a ruck soon allowed Priestland to restore the visitors’ advantage.
Home misery continued when Edinburgh opted to put a kickable penalty into the corner and not only lost their own line-out throw but also Cornell du Preez to the sin-bin for pulling down a jumper. When Scarlets attacked immediately, the extra man encouraged them to kick a close-range penalty to touch.
The driving maul was contained and there was further solid defence when a desperate tackle by Beard prevented Liam Williams from touching down.
A timely turnover brought some respite but it was all Scarlets until a knock-on almost in the act of scoring helped Edinburgh weather the storm. Du Preez returned to boost an Edinburgh side who had at least avoided conceding in his absence.
However, sloppy defence was again in evidence when scrum half Aled Davies took a tap penalty 25 metres out and when tackled just short popped up a scoring pass to Liam Williams. Extras were comfortably added by Priestland for 17-3 after 32 minutes.
In 37 minutes, the home support finally had something to cheer as Edinburgh threatened through both centre and Greig Tonks before spreading play to the other flank where Tim Visser roared on to a long pass from Andries Strauss to cross in the corner.
Heathcote converted and at the other end there was a let off when Priestland smashed a kickable penalty against the post and back into play as the score remained 17-10 to the visitors. Scarlets were intent on carrying on where they left off and Edinburgh prop John Andress picked up a yellow card for not rolling away at a ruck.
The indiscipline was duly punished by the boot of Priestland. Edinburgh’s response was to introduce Grant Gilchrist and the Scotland internationalist was duly involved as Heathcote brought his side back to within a single score with a penalty.
Indeed, for all that Edinburgh had spent most of the match on the back foot they were still in contact and the arrival of Roddy Grant seemed to further rouse them for a brief spell.
Entering the final quarter Edinburgh found themselves winning a line-out and going backwards, and overall they had lost six of their own throws.
But somehow rewards for hanging in were still on offer, helped by the busy Sean Kennedy, and when Scarlets’ John Barclay was yellow carded with nine minutes left, Edinburgh scented an unlikely victory.
The resultant penalty went into the corner and with Gilchrist dominating the line-out the ball was spun out to Burleigh who ran a magnificent line to crash over.
Heathcote’s angled conversion levelled matters and a last-gasp penalty from long range was always speculative with both teams probably content to settle for a draw.
Edinburgh: Tries – Visser, Burleigh. Conversions – Heathcote (2). Penalties – Heathcote (2).
Scarlets: Tries – Robinson, L Williams. Conversions – Priestland (2). Penalty – Priestland (2)
Edinburgh: Tonks; Cuthbert, Beard, Strauss (Burleigh 67) ,Visser, Heathcote, Kennedy (Hidalgo-Clyne 80); Dickinson, Ford (c), Andress, Bresler, Atkins (Gilchrist 45), Leonardi, Du Preez, Watson (Nel 46, Grant 53). Subs not used: Hilterbrand, Dell, McLennan.
Scarlets: L Williams; Robinson, Owen (Warren 62), S Williams (c) (S Shingler 76), Tagicakibau, Priestland, A Davies; (R Williams 64), Evans (John 67), Phillips, Lee (Edwards 67), Ball, Snyman, A Shingler (Davies 74), McCusker (Pitman 56), Barclay. Sub not used: Myhill.
Referee: J Lacey (IRFU).