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Edinburgh 10 Leicester 11: Tigers claw it back

Better, so much better.

Leicester halt Edinburgh lock Ollie Atkins in his tracks    Photograph: SNS
Leicester halt Edinburgh lock Ollie Atkins in his tracks Photograph: SNS

Edinburgh, the basket case club of last season, can look forward to the new campaign with confidence and excitement after this stirring workout against Leicester at Melrose. They led going into the final minute at the Greenyards, and only a dubious scrum penalty, converted by the English side's David Mele, denied them what would have been a famous win.

Yes, it was a pre-season friendly, but it was still a full-blooded contest. Rory Sutherland, Edinburgh's 21-year-old debutant prop, would have testified to that when, a few seconds into his first professional match, a huge gash opened up above his eye. Sutherland soldiered on heroically, producing a rousing performance against his direct opponent Logovi'i Mulipola, who weighs in at something close to 25 stones.

That Edinburgh were in with a shout of victory almost to the end was all the more remarkable in that they were without many first-choice players, including Matt Scott, Dave Denton and Ally Dickinson, through injury. A host of others made their first appearances for the capital side, but they came together superbly.

Coach Alan Solomons was critical of his squad's conditioning at the start of last season, but he certainly seems to have them in good shape this time.

Flanker Hamish Watson, who spent time in the Leicester academy before heading north to Edinburgh, was hugely impressive, and there were satisfying cameos from Sam Hidalgo-Clyne at scrum-half, Ollie Atkins at lock and fly-half Greig Tonks, who returned to action after missing much of last season with injury.

However, Solomons could take most satisfaction from the all-round cohesion Edinburgh displayed as well as their fierce commitment in contact.

"The positive thing that was really heartening was that everyone got on the field and contributed," Solomons said. "We have 11 frontline players who are injured and were not playing, but I think everyone who played acquitted themselves very well against a Leicester side that was close to full strength.

"We are in a much better place than a year ago. We have greater strength in depth. We have real competition for places and that makes a difference. I'm pleased by the fact that they are gutted that they lost that game.

"Neither side was mucking around out there. The fact Leicester went for the posts [as opposed to running penalties] was a mark of respect. For this early stage of the season it was a good game and I thought our defence was outstanding. Our set-piece was really good."

Edinburgh certainly put down a marker early, rocking the Tigers back on their heels at the first couple of scrums. What they could not do, however, was make significant yardage gains as a consequence, and there was a powerful impression that Leicester found ground easier to come by when they were on the ball. They looked sharper in possession, having already played a couple of matches, and that advantage was made to tell in the 10th minute when they sent Mulipola rumbling over for the first score.

Edinburgh were not disheartened by the setback and continued to dictate terms at the breakdowns. Leicester coach Richard Cockerill suggested - as he almost always does - that his side had enjoyed few favours from the referee, but you suspect he might have a different narrative when he gathers his players together over the next few days. Most observers would have concluded that Edinburgh were simply the stronger side in the collisions.

Debutant Freddie Burns extended Leicester's lead with a penalty on the half-hour but just before the interval Roddy Grant surged over from the tail of a line-out for an Edinburgh try, with Tonks converting.

The second half was a tense and feisty affair. Edinburgh seemed to have gained the upper hand when Tom Heathcote landed a penalty with seven minutes left but victory was cruelly plucked from their grasp after they conceded that final penalty with seconds remaining.

Edinburgh: N McLennan; D Fife, C Dean, A Strauss, T Visser; G Tonks, S Kennedy; R Sutherland, R Ford (captain), J Andress, F McKenzie, O Atkins, R Grant, H Watson, C Du Preez. Subs used: J Hilterbrand, S Berghan, B Toolis, A Toolis, J Ritchie, S Hidalgo-Clyne, T Heathcote, S Beard, J Dominguez, B Thompson, D Hoyland, C Bezuidenhout

Leicester: N Morris; B Scully, M Tuilagi, S Bai, N Goneva; F Burns, B Youngs; A Sio, L Ghiraldini, L Mulipola, S de Chaves, G Parling, T Croft, J Salvi, R Barbieri. Subs used: N Briggs, D Mele, J Pohe, M Smith, F Balmain, T Bristow, R Brugnara, J Crane.

Referee: A McMemeny (SRU)

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

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