Edinburgh’s Stuart McInally promised a notable performance in Friday’s Rabo Direct Pro 12 League home clash with Ulster as a launchpad back into a Heineken European Cup competition that increasingly now looks like the Capital team’s main hope of success this season.
A 17-12 defeat at Glasgow last night in a match where Edinburgh failed to notch a try for the first time since the opening day of the season, has left them languishing in ninth place in the table whereas victories in their remaining two European pool games would virtually guarantee qualification for the knockout stages. That appeared to be the main target of the campaign as soon as a team selection missing a host of frontline players was unveiled for this game and nothing has changed in the wake of a derby that unquestionably hinged on the controversial sin-binning of Edinburgh centre Matt Scott by referee Peter Allan, a former Watsonian player, for a dangerous tackle on opposing flanker Rob Harley.
Almost immediately Glasgow’s Moray Low was driven over for a try which created a 14-9 lead and while Scott was still sidelined Scott Wight added a further penalty leaving Edinburgh dependent on a last-gasp Phil Godman drop goal off the upright – confirmed by the video referee – for a consolation bonus point.
McInally, agreeing that Edinburgh had taken a worthwhile opportunity to rest certain players while being encouraged that others had stepped into widen the playing pool with performances in which they gave as good as they got from Glasgow, said: “We’ll see a good performance against Ulster at Murrayfield on Friday as a springboard into the Heineken Cup.”
At the same time McInally, such a pillar of strength for Edinburgh that he stands a strong chance of being included when Scotland coach Andy Robinson names a provisional squad on Thursday of approximately 40 players for this season’s Six Nations Championship, said: “Some players have been playing a lot recently and it was right to swap a few around.
“The Heineken Cup is now one of our main targets. We are not going to forget about the league at all but we have put ourselves in a great position to reach the quarter-finals.
“It is a position we have not been in for a few years (2004).”
In the event of managing to compete on two fronts, then the drop goal which further entrenched Godman as one of only two players – Chris Paterson is the other – to score 300 league points (he now has 307) could yet prove crucial. Besides, according to McInally, a losing bonus point was at least some consolation at Firhill.
“It was some sort of consolation that we came away with something. We deserved it. There is not a lot between the two teams.”
Edinburgh had long passages of supremacy, particularly when overturning a 9-3 interval deficit to level, but the Scott sin-binning pulled the rug from under them. “We did a lot of work in training on the breakdown (because) we didn’t do too well last week at Murrayfield (in the reciprocal fixture),” added McInally. “It was really ferocious out there and I didn’t expect anything else. Especially on a narrow pitch getting the breakdown right was going to be key and that showed in the amount of ball and territory we had throughout the game. It reflected on our accuracy at the breakdown. But it was really disappointing to have that much possession and not come away with more.
“In terms of a confidence boost (for Europe) it hasn’t happened by way of a win but getting game time for a lot of players like myself was invaluable.”
Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley acknowledged a shaky line-out as a major weakness to the extent of confirming thrower Andy Kelly had been substituted after 33 minutes for tactical reasons. But otherwise Bradley was effusive in his praise of a beaten team and in a way that indicated serious disquiet at the crucial sin-binning which came following the intervention of a touch judge.
Bradley said: “The referee was next to it and didn’t put his hand in his pocket (for a card) to stop the play. Then the touch judge saw what he saw.
“We did well when down to 14 and you don’t automatically lose when down to 14 men. We didn’t take our chances when it was very close. The Edinburgh Rugby players were excellent and put in a fantastic performance for 80 minutes.
“We got more territory and possession but that particular decision (the yellow card) and the value it had to Glasgow seemed to be critical in the game. We were better this week in the breakdown. We lost a number of critical line-outs and you won’t win matches if you don’t win your set-piece.
“In general the attitude and application of our guys was great. We created a lot of half opportunities which Glasgow were able to snuff out.”
If Bradley’s tactics were spot on to enable his side to rotate heavily with Europe in mind yet remain competitive, the absence of a recent regular goal-kicker undermined Edinburgh in a match where Glasgow took the 1872 Cup based on aggregate scores over two legs.
Making only his second start since a serious knee injury the kicking role fell to Godman whose off-loading by hand and vision on the cross kick may have been sublime at times but his ball striking was less effective. A sclaffed early penalty must have done little to settle the stand-off but he did eventually land three penalties by the 58th minute to nullify a similar number from Duncan Weir.
The sin-binning of Scott occurred before the visitors could consolidate and Glasgow grabbed the initiative they were not to lose.
However, down the home straight winger Lee Jones did brilliantly to gather a Godman kick on the run only to be forced into touch by the corner flag and watching national coach Andy Robinson could only have been impressed by such attacking flair.
Jones, incidentally, was one of four late Edinburgh changes which also saw Mike Blair, Grant Gilchrist and David Denton introduced compared to the original selection from which Tom Brown, Chris Leck, Esteban Lozada and Netani Talei withdrew.
Scorers: Glasgow: Try: Low. Penalties: Weir (3), Wight. Edinburgh: Penalties: Godman (3). Drop goal: Godman.
Glasgow: Murchie, Lemi, Hogg, Morrison, Shaw, Weir (Wight, 65), Cusiter (Pyrgos, 74), Welsh (Kalman, 66), Hall (MacArthur, 55), Low (Cusack, 55, Low, 67), Gray, Kellock (captain) (Ryder, 66), Harley, Wilson (Barclay, 62), Fusaro. Sub not used: Nathan.
Edinburgh: Thompson, Webster, Scott, Houston, Jones, Godman (captain), Blair (Black, 72), Traynor (Hislop, 72), Kelly (Walker, 33), Gilding, (Niven, 67), Gilchrist, Turnbull (Talei, 71), Denton, McInally (Rennie, 72), MacDonald. Subs not used: Leonard, King.
Referee: P. Allan.