Edinburgh stormed to the top of Pool 5 in the Heineken Champions Cup with an emphatic 31-13 bonus-point win over Newcastle Falcons at BT Murrayfield last night.
Richard Cockerill’s men leapfrogged their injury-hit opponents with a dominant display as tries from Hamish Watson, Chris Dean and Blair Kinghorn, in addition to a penalty try, saw them hit the top of the section at the halfway point ahead of next Sunday’s second leg of this double header with the English Premiership side.
Newcastle’s tighthead injury crisis deepened as both the named starting No. 3 David Wilson and Trevor Davison, a loosehead who could cover the position, failed fitness tests and, with European authorities denying Falcons’ pleas for an emergency loan, they were forced to arrive in Edinburgh with a squad of just 22 with Sam Lockwood coming straight into the front row.
With Scotland cap Jon Welsh, Craig Mitchell and Paul Mullen all also unavailable, loosehead Sami Mavinga was on the bench but it raised the prospect of Newcastle having to play with 14 men and face uncontested scrums in the event of any further setbacks.
Ahead of kick-off, Cockerill said he had been amenable to the English side being given some leeway.
“They’ve got three fit props, they’re all loosehead props. Lockwood is going to have a crack at tight-head and they’ve come here to have a contest,” said the Edinburgh coach.
“We rang EPCR and said we’re happy for them to bring extra bodies in to make it a fair contest. But regs are regs and we’re at where we’re at.”
The visitors, cheered on by a sizeable Geordie support who had made the short trip up the A1, took the lead in the eighth minute with Brett Connon penalty.
In swirling wind and rain, Edinburgh kept things conservative as they patiently worked their way back into the game and were rewarded in the 14th minute when Henry Pyrgos fed flanker Watson to crash over, and Jaco van der Walt added the extras off the post. A 15-minute lull of pretty uneventful fare was broken in some style as Newcastle stunned Edinburgh with a slick attack down the left, winger Adam Radwan converting a routine overlap. Connon slotted an excellent conversion from out wide.
Edinburgh had a chance to level the scores five minutes later but Van der Walt’s penalty came back off the post this time. However, good work by Darcy Graham saw Edinburgh regain possession and, when the penalty came, the South African made no mistake this time. The parity would not survive to the break though as Connon knocked over another penalty to give the English side a 13-10 half-time lead.
Edinburgh started the second half strongly and their second try was similar to the first, patient probing by the forwards leading to Pyrgos finding the scoring pass, this time Dean hitting a good line to crash over under the posts, Van der Walt converting.
Edinburgh extended that lead by turning the screw on the depleted Falcons scrum ten metres out in the left-hand corner. After one penalty the home side understandably opted for another set-piece and this time referee Marius Mitrea didn’t hesitate as the fast retreating visitors collapsed, the referee running to the posts with arm raised to signal a penalty try.
Edinburgh thought they had sealed the bonus when Blair Kinghorn’s delightful flipped pass sent Graham scoring in at the right corner but the TMO confirmed that his knee had just been in touch.
Newcastle continued to battle gamely and any home hopes that they would start to wilt were not forthcoming as the game entered the last 15 minutes. Young wing Radwan, who had impressed hugely in the pre-season meeting between these sides, set off an a scorching weaving run which required substitute hooker David Cherry, who was on temporarily for skipper Stuart McInally, adorning his brief cameo with a fine covering tackle.
With that scare negotiated, Edinburgh resumed the hunt for what could be a potentially crucial bonus point and when the fourth try came in the 71st it was a cracker created by a piece of offloading magic from Bill Mata. Van der Walt took the delightful pass and placed a perfect kick through which Kinghorn chased down and gleefully flopped over.