Edinburgh Rugby v Cardiff Blues Match Report 16/12/11

Netani Talei shrugs off the tackle from Sam Warburton

By Scott Thomson

EDINBURGH Rugby provided home fans with an early Christmas treat after a fairly convincing performance in their 19-12 Heineken Cup Pool victory over Cardiff Blues at Murrayfield.

The win ensured Edinburgh joined Cardiff on top of Pool 2 and regained hopes of qualifying for the knock-out stage of the competition after losing against Cardiff in Wales the previous week.

Edinburgh head into the New Year with qualification in their own hands, fixtures against Racing Metro away and London Irish at home still to come in January.

Captain Greig Laidlaw played a key role in the match, his inspiring performance helping Edinburgh to a decisive victory. Laidlaw was re-instated at stand-off ahead of youngster Harry Leonard and secured fourteen points for his side after kicking three penalties, a conversion and a drop goal.

It was the first half performance of Edinburgh which helped to secure the win as a Tim Visser try and fourteen points from the boot of captain Greig Laidlaw saw them leading 19-3 at the break. Edinburgh could live to regret the late Leigh Halfpenny penalty in the dying minutes of the match though which secured a losing bonus point for the Welsh and put them level on top with Edinburgh.

Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley made three changes to the side which lost away in Cardiff the previous week, most notable seeing Fijian Number 8 Netani Talei return to the starting XV and he played a huge role, breaching the Cardiff defence on various occasions in an Edinburgh performance which was full of determination in seeking revenge for the loss in Wales.

It was their work in the breakdown which set a platform for them to build on and pleased Bradley most.
He said:

“The consistency and performance was better in terms of the quality of work in the breakdown. I think more players got it right and it made a huge difference to us and we were able to put a lot of pressure on Cardiff particularly in the first half.”

Edinburgh clearly looked up for the encounter in the early stages of the match as they came flying out the blocks. With pressure on the Cardiff defence leading to a penalty being conceded on the outside of Cardiff’s ’22 after just three minutes. Laidlaw duly stepped up to take the three points.

Cardiff faced early Edinburgh pressure and Visser almost scored after a ‘basketball’ like pass went astray in the Cardiff backline. Visser raced ahead onto the ball and looked set to score but a Leigh Halfpenny tackle only yards from the line prevented him.

Soon after Laidlaw doubled the score line with a penalty after 10 minutes and was then heavily involved in the move which allowed Visser to score three minutes later. A move which started from Laidlaw linking up with centre Nick De Luca saw Visser score in the corner. Laidlaw then kicked over the conversion from a tight angle on the touchline to increase Edinburgh’s lead.

An infringement in the scrum allowed Cardiff to reduce the lead by three points courtesy of a Dan Park penalty but this did not deter Edinburgh’s confidence as they went in search of a second try.

Moments later Edinburgh should have went further ahead after cross field kicks from Laidlaw to both touchlines demonstrating his decision making and composure to move from one area of the pitch to another. Two opportunities for Dutchman Visser to score were passed up.

The first opportunity for Visser was on the same wing he scored his opening try. An illegal tackle from centre Laulala on Visser prevented him from increasing Edinburgh’s lead in style but Laidlaw, who was dictating every Edinburgh attack, switched focus to the opposite wing where Visser looked set to score, but he fumbled the cross-field kick one metre from the try-line.

Stand-off Laidlaw spared Visser’s blushes though soon after when he added three points to Edinburgh’s lead with a drop-goal in front of the posts after a pass from scrum-half Mike Blair.

Further Edinburgh phases put increasing strain on the Cardiff defence as the clock passed the half-hour mark, with surging runs from Ross Ford and Netani Talei breaching the Cardiff rear-guard. Pressure eventually led to a penalty for Edinburgh after 35 minutes, Laidlaw stepping up to take another three points and extending the lead further.

The sixteen point advantage which Edinburgh had racked up in just over 30 first half minutes seemed to rile Cardiff up and they raced into Edinburgh’s ’22, intent on clawing back the lead. However, possession was lost as the ball went out wide and Edinburgh recovered as winger Lee Jones broke up the wing. Visser should have scored again but he dropped the ball just short of the line after the ball was sprayed out wide from a lineout as half time approached.

Cardiff started the second half with greater urgency after a poor showing in the first half and stretched the Edinburgh defence early in the second half which led to a misplaced pass from Paterson almost creating havoc in the Edinburgh back line as Cardiff regained possession. Halfpenny looked certain to score soon after but he made the same mistake as Visser in the first half, dropping the ball from a Park’s pass as they edged towards the Edinburgh try-line.

Soon Cardiff put further points on the board after 60 minutes when Parks kicked over a penalty in front of the posts and there looked to be signs that a Cardiff comeback was on the cards but this failed to materialise.

Cardiff did attempt to force their way back into the match but tireless defensive work from Edinburgh helped to soak up Cardiff pressure. Winger Gareth Evans should have scored a try for the Blues as the match entered the final ten minutes, falling before the line when he looked certain to score.

Parks put over his third penalty of the evening on 70 minutes to make it 19-9 but it looked like Edinburgh could do enough to hold on.

As the match entered the final five minutes Edinburgh introduced some much needed fresh legs as they began to tire.

On 79 minutes though, Cardiff secured an invaluable losing bonus point courtesy of Halfpenny and they seemed happy to settle for this as Parks kicked the ball to touch in Cardiff’s half as the clock hit 80 minutes.

Edinburgh coach Bradley commented on the bonus point for Cardiff which prevented his side from leading the Pool themselves:

“After four matches we are joint top of the group, hopefully that won’t be a key factor at the end of the pool.”
He also went on to praise the work done in defence:

“We did so well in the breakdown and in the contest from a physical point of view that the rest of our game fell into place for large portions of the match. As a performance it was a very good performance for Edinburgh Rugby with three wins out of four in this competition. It’s not a bad start.”

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