Planet Rugby

Edinburgh facing test of character

26th December 2013 18:33


SKY_MOBILE David Denton Edinburgh

Powerhouse: Dave Denton

Having suffered a morale-sapping derby defeat to Glasgow Warriors at Murrayfield, Edinburgh must bounce back in the return leg.

Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors found themselves moving in opposite directions heading into the Boxing Day derby.

Glasgow's progress in the Pro12 had stalled, and they were unceremoniously dumped out of the Heineken Cup by a depleted Cardiff Blues outfit. Indeed, with the spectre of an alleged late-night assault hanging over Gregor Townsend's squad; many claimed that the incident and prospect of legal trouble was affecting the Warriors performances on the pitch.

This was a suggestion point-blank refuted by Townsend, but there is little doubt his side were in need of a win - and not just to ensure their status at the business end of the league table.

While Glasgow faltered domestically and in Europe, Edinburgh had cautiously begun to deliver on head coach Alan Solomons' more cogent and hard-nosed approach that contrasted in such stark fashion to the gung-ho, offloading game with which the capital side have been associated for several seasons.

Thursday's clash was one Edinburgh should have added to their back-to-back wins over Gloucester and Leinster.

They controlled the first half, scoring a well-worked try, and the carries of Dave Denton, Cornell du Preez and Ollie Atkins had the Warriors on the back foot time and again. It was a perfect example of the importance of "winning the collisions" in modern day rugby.

But it was another much-vaunted adage of the sport, more crucial than dynamic go-forward, that was to be their downfall - turning pressure into points.

While Glasgow floundered in the first-half, struggling to string phases together and seldom threatening the home line, Edinburgh passed up scoring opportunities - most notably when Atkins lost possession with the line at his mercy.

Then, the other side of half-time, the hosts repeatedly won ball in the Warriors' 22, but invariably laboured to a halt short of five points. Denton was bundled into touch, Cornell du Preez was stopped inches from the line, and a combination of penalties and errors cost them a crucial score.

Had they converted just one of those chances, they would have put themselves in a very strong position. As it was, trailing by seven, then four points, Glasgow grew in confidence. The momentum was shifting.

And though the absence of a cutting edge, and the mind-set to finish off opponents have been issues in Scottish rugby for what seems an eternity, it was refreshing to see the Warriors capitalise on a rare attacking opportunity.

As he received possession on the left-hand-side, DTH van der Merwe intelligently saw the gaping Murrayfield in-goal area beckoning, and chipped through for Stuart Hogg to ground unchallenged.

That left Edinburgh stunned, and could prove to be one of the most important tries in Glasgow's season. Though not a major crisis, Towsnend's men have undeniably suffered an alarming slump in form of late; one that badly needed arresting.

Such is the morale boost that follows a derby victory - especially one where a team has come from behind - the Warriors will head into the return leg next week with renewed confidence.

Conversely, Solomons' side now face a test of their resilience at what will be a sold-out Scotstoun Stadium on New Year's Day. The work of the previous fortnight has not been undone, but - with Scotland places very much up for grabs - it does mean Edinburgh must give substance to the ideals of their coach.

By Jamie Lyall

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