Edinburgh Rugby are still very much a work in progress under Richard Cockerill, but at least they are becoming better at carrying out running repairs.
For the second consecutive game on Saturday they suffered error-strewn spells that would have cost them dearly in the recent past, yet instead showed an increasing strength of character to claim an invaluable win in their opening Challenge Cup game.
An under-strength London Irish side tested the Scots’ mental toughness, as Zebre had done at Myreside a week earlier, but a strong finish secured the bonus point which takes Edinburgh to the top of Pool 4 on points differential. Krasny Yar, who they play on Saturday in Moscow, are just behind them after their surprise 34-29 win over Stade Francais.
“It was good to get a bonus point,” said scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who had his best display of the season so far. “With the personnel we had in both teams it was always going to be an open game; we expected that. We wanted to throw the ball around and create opportunities – we knew there were going to be opportunities through them rather than round them.
“There was a lot of mistakes, but that’s within us to fix. We just need to tighten up a few things. Our exit strategy needs to be better – they got quite a few points from our mistakes in our own half receiving kick-offs. We need to tighten that up and put the pressure back on them. When we held the ball down there, we got points, which was good.”
Just as importantly, Irish failed to capitalise fully on their extended spells of possession, scoring only one try, after half an hour, when tight-head prop Ollie Hoskins completed a well-coordinated series of drives from the forwards. That was far from the only time that Edinburgh were under pressure, but they smartened up their defence considerably after conceding that score, and, crucially, were sharper in attack.
Winger Damien Hoyland and Junior Rasolea had already touched down by the time Hoskins got on the score sheet, and the centre added another before the break, which came with the visitors 11-20 in front. The ability to hit back quickly after an Irish score was important in the second half too, with a Hidalgo-Clyne penalty swiftly restoring the nine-point advantage after Theo Brophy Clews had kicked his team three points closer.
Edinburgh should have put the game to bed sooner than they did after that, but they got there in the end with two more tries in the closing minutes, albeit after the home side’s Conor Gilsenan had been sent to the sin bin for an offence in the ruck. Jamie Ritchie claimed the bonus-point try from close range, and then substitute Luke Crosbie scored his first try for Edinburgh, shaking his way out of a tired-looking tackle on the edge of the home 22 then cantering over the line.
Krasny Yar will clearly be no pushovers, and will go into Saturday morning’s match under no pressure at all and intent on causing another upset. But Cockerill is confident that if his team do justice to their abilities, they will return from Russia with another win – one which would give their confidence another boost ahead of two very winnable PRO14 games.
“We just need to make sure that we do our things right – if we do that we’ll be good enough to beat them,” the head coach said. “We can be good next week, strong next week, and then go on to Treviso and Ospreys.
“Winning’s a good habit to have. We’d like to think today, next week and the two weeks after that are very important, and we’ve got to get used to winning. Last year we scored one try bonus point the whole season: this year we’ve scored two already and we’re only seven games in. It’s progress.
“We’re happy with the win; we’ve just got to keep building. Nothing’s solved by winning today. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
They have indeed. Nonetheless, the work they have done thus far is beginning to bear fruit. There will be setbacks along the way – and defeat by Krasny Yar would constitute a significant one – but at least now Edinburgh appear to be heading slowly yet steadily in the right direction.
London Irish: Try: Hoskins. Pens: Brophy Clews 3.
Edinburgh: Tries: Hoyland, Rasolea 2, Ritchie, Crosbie. Cons: Tovey, Hidalgo-Clyne 2. Pens: Hidalgo-Clyne 2.
London Irish: B Ransom; J Cokanasiga, T Fowlie, J Williams, T Ojo (B Loader 73); T Brophy Clews (J Atkins 77), B Meehan (S Steele 54); H Elrington (T Smallbone 62), T Woolstencroft (T Gleave 54), O Hoskins (L Chawatama 62), W Lloyd (J Cooke 72), J McNally, M Northcote-Green, C Gilsenan, L Lomidze (I Curtis-Harris 54).
Edinburgh: G Bryce; D Fife, C Dean, J Rasolea (T Brown 79), D Hoyland (J Harries 66); J Tovey (N Fowles 73), S Hidalgo-Clyne; A Dell (D Marfo 49), S McInally (N Cochrane 62), S Berghan (W Nel 52), F McKenzie (G Gilchrist 57), B Toolis, J Ritchie, J Hardie (L Crosbie 66), C du Preez.
Referee: D Jones (Wales).