Edinburgh’s hopes of earning automatic qualification for next season’s European Champions’ Cup were all but dashed on the banks of the River Usk as a resurgent Newport Dragons made up for their European beating, at Murrayfeld, last month.
Having failed to register a single point in a first half littered with errors, Edinburgh, who brushed the Dragons to one side on home soil, in the semi-final of the European Challenge Cup, were only marginally better after the break. In the end, Stuart McInally’s late try was nothing more than a consolation.
It might have been a decent end for the visitors, but McInally’s touchdown did little to ease the pain for coach Alan Solomons.
He said: “It was a disappointing result, but we were just not at the races. It was our seventh back-to-back game and the players were just flat. It was a bridge too far, for them.
“Look at the games we have had. We went to London Irish in the quarter-final, then it was the semi-final and last week we had a massive final against Gloucester.”
Defeat means the Scarlets are likely to pinch the final qualifying place with Solomons happy to admit that his side’s chances have now all but disappeared.
“It’s disappointing, but I think our chance of a top-six finish has gone now. We were hoping to get there, but I cant see Cardiff Blues winning at the Scarlets so our chance has gone. I think they have zero chance of winning down there.
“But we have one game left and it’s an important one next weekend against Leinster.”
Solomons’ fears were realised inside the opening half dozen minutes with Edinburgh sloppy at the set piece and conceding three penalties in quick succession.
He said: “It didn’t go well early on and after that, the penalty count was right against us. I think it was 12 to three. That makes it difficult.”
Dragons’ outside half Jason Tovey converted his first shot at goal in the fifth minute, to edge the Welsh region ahead, and after that, the canny pivot kept his side on the front foot with a series of probing kicks behind Edinburgh full back Jack Cuthbert.
In contrast, the visitors were careless in their execution and lacked any penetration in the final third. They enjoyed a decent supply of possession, with scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne keeping his forwards close as the Gunners sought a way through the heart of the Dragons midfield.
Sadly, they rarely threatened and the Dragons, whom they had swept to one side in the semi final of this season’s European Challenge Cup, were comfortable throughout.
Tovey, having missed a straightforward penalty, in the 31st minute, made amends four minutes later before adding a third with the final kick of the half. It was just reward for his side’s endeavour and his own controlling influence.
If the first half, for Edinburgh, had been poor, the beginning of the second period was equally as bad. Andre Nel was yellow carded in the 48th minute for collapsing a maul, and a minute later, Dragons replacement Huw Gustafson was driven over the line for a try that Tovey improved. Game over.
Despite a raft of replacements, Edinburgh showed precious little appetite for a fight. Their execution, with ball in hand, was some distance off what it should have been and their kicking, from hand, was only marginally better.
McInally did find a way to the line, six minutes from time, but Tovey’s late penalty sealed Edinburgh’s fate and just about brought an end to their hopes of that top-six finish.
However, Solomons is convinced that his side will come out with all guns blazing against Leinster and should they win, a play off place, against Gloucester, could be theirs.
“We won’t ease off,” he said. “It would be great to get into that play-off and the boys will certainly be up for that challenge, should it come. But first we have got a big game against a very good side and we will need to focus on that when we come back in.”
Scorers: Dragons: Try: Gustafson; Conversion: Tovey; Penalties: Tovey (4). Edinburgh: Try: McInally.
Newport Gwent Dragons: T Prydie; A Hewitt (G Jones 74) T Morgan, J Dixon, H Amos; J Tovey (D Jones 80), L Jones (R Rees 65); B Stankovich (P Price 63), R Thomas (H Gustafson 22), B Harris (L Fairbrother 70), C Hill, R Landman, M Crosswell (J Thomas 66), N Cudd (O Griffiths 76), T Faletau.
Edinburgh: J Cuthbert; D Fife, S Beard, A Strauss (T Heathcote 62), T Visser; P Burleigh, S Hidalgo-Clyne (N Fowles 65); A Dickinson (R Sutherland 52), R Ford (N Cochrane 46), WP Nel (J Andress 58), F Mackenzie (O Atkins 52), B Toolis (A Bresler 52), S McInally, H Watson, C Du Preez.
Replacements: T Brown.
Referee: G Conway (IRFU).