Edinburgh Rugby maintained their recent run of success when they ground out a gutsy 12-6 victory against Munster in a keenly-contested Guinness PRO14 encounter at BT Murrayfield last night.
The match had been postponed because of snow two weeks earlier, and this encounter also suffered from freezing conditions, rarely sparking into life and often descending into a dour battle.
The Capital outfit went into the match looking to extend a four-match winning run and with an eye on boosting their bid for a place in the play-offs. And, although they managed to take that tally to five, there were only occasional flashes of the flair that has become a feature of their play over recent weeks.
Both teams were shorn of their leading international players and the early loss of Sam Hidalgo-Clyne with a head knock certainly didn’t help Edinburgh’s cause. The tricky conditions also had an impact. But it was largely disappointing fare. Dougie Fife emerged with credit, contributing most of the creativity in the home ranks, while Viliame Mata also looked menacing with ball in hand before leaving the field injured early in the second period. However, this was a victory built on team spirit rather than any individual contribution.
Head coach Richard Cockerill said: “We are learning to stay in the battle. We knew that Munster play in a certain way and they keep the ball a lot, put teams under pressure and we managed to defuse a lot of that pressure.
“Munster are a good side and they will be disappointed but we just go into every game trying to win it, trying to play as well as we can and trying to improve.
“Sometimes playing well is controlling games, playing ugly and still getting to win. We would rather play ball in hand and have a bit more fun, but against sides that probably don’t want to do that as much, then you have to try and get your strategy right and make sure you can control the game.”
Edinburgh looked the livelier of the sides in the opening exchanges and they made a fine start with a clever cross-kick by Jaco van der Walt just eluding Jason Harries. That was the prelude to a spell of pressure that ended with Viliame Mata blasting his way over. However, the referee ruled that Fraser McKenzie had offended at the preceding ruck and the score was chalked off.
A mounting error count by both sides ensured that neither came close to threatening the opposition try line although Edinburgh looked the livelier of the two teams. With 18 minutes on the clock, the first scoring opportunity went Munster’s way when Ben Toolis offended at the breakdown and JJ Hanrahan banged over the kick.
The visitors sought to build on that breakthrough but an over-reliance on kicking from hand and the lack of a cutting edge within sight of the target meant that the game spluttered towards half-time with little action to warm the meagre crowd.
Seven minutes before the break, Munster almost added to their tally when Simon Zebo raced into contact and the recycled ball was worked out to Dan Goggin who was hauled down just short of target by Chris Dean.
And, having repelled that effort, Edinburgh finally produced a moment to rouse the spectators. Dougie Fife gathered a speculative kick ahead on the edge of his 22 and sprinted past three defenders before offloading to Duhan Van der Merwe who darted past Zebo to dot down and hand the home side a 5-3 interval lead.
The hosts restarted well but failed to add to their points tally. And they fell behind for a second time when Magnus Bradbury was penalised within kicking range and Hanrahan was on target with the resulting penalty.
And things got worse for the home side when Harries was sent for a ten-minute spell in the sin bin after a high tackle on Robin Copeland. But they responded well to the numerical disadvantage with Dean sending Fife hurtling over, only for the try to be disallowed. However, there was an earlier knock-on by the Irishmen and the scrum provided the foundation for another series of pick-and-drive attacks before Van der Walt picked out his countryman Van der Merwe, who sprinted in at the corner for his second touchdown of the evening. The creator then banged over the conversion before being replaced by Duncan Weir.
With the gap still less than a converted score, Munster raised the pace for the final ten minutes. However, they failed to trouble the scoreboard operator and were left with a narrow defeat bonus point after Weir was off target with a late penalty effort.
Cockerill praised his men, saying: “We are learning to stay in the battle. We knew that Munster play in a certain way and they keep the ball a lot, put teams under pressure and we managed to defuse a lot of that pressure. Munster are a good side and they will be disappointed but we just go into every game trying to win it, trying to play as well as we can and trying to improve.”
Edinburgh Rugby: D Fife; J Harries, M Bennett, C Dean, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt (D Weir 60), S Hidalgo-Clyne (N Fowles 10; J Lay (R Sutherland 54), N Cochrane (C Fenton 73), M McCallum (S Berghan 47), F McKenzie, B Toolis (L Carmichael 54), M Bradbury, J Hardie, V Mata (C du Preez 45).
Munster: S Zebo (B Johnston 40); D Sweetnam, S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton (D Goggin 31); J Hanrahan, J Hart; J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 49), M Sherry (K O’Byrne 69), S Archer (B Scott 69), J Kleyn (D O’Shea 52), W Holland, J O’Donoghue, C Oliver (T O’Donnell 52), R Copeland.
Referee: B Whitehouse (WRU)
Edinburgh: Tries: Van der Merwe (2). Con: Van der Walt.
Munster: Pens: Hanrahan (2).