THE Mike Blair era got off to an inspired start last night as Edinburgh shrugged off a shaky start to claim a bonus-point victory in their opening match in the United Rugby Championship. 

The new head coach had presided over a friendly win against Benetton as well as an earlier loss to Newcastle, but this was his first competitive match in charge. He insisted he did not see the performance as perfect, but was proud of the way his players stuck to their task after being second best throughout the first quarter, and suggested that the atmosphere at the team’s new ground had helped his players come out on top.

“That was a brilliant atmosphere,” the head coach said. “If this had been on the big pitch at BT Murrayfield stadium it would have been lost and we would not have had that atmosphere. It was harder for Scarlets trying to get back into the game when you have our crowd in the background cheering  the knock-ons, cheering the turnovers or cheering our good play. It was great to have such a fantastic crowd.

“I will enjoy that game much more now that it is over. There are so many emotions. There was brilliant stuff in it and stuff we will be able to learn from for next week. I loved the attitude and the players like Jamie Ritchie and Connor Boyle trying to lift the crowd and bring them it. That was very important as we rose to that.”

Edinburgh were under the cosh early on, and went behind after a dozen minutes when Scotland international Blade Thomson came into the line and laid on the scoring pass for Steff Evans. Dan Jones’s conversion was wide.

The home side hardly got out of their own half in the first quarter, but they steadily began to exert more pressure, and took the lead after 25 minutes. Solid work by Bill Mata set up the platform, and a one-two between Kinghorn and centre Mark Bennett ended with the stand-off crossing by the posts. Kinghorn converted too, putting his side in front when they might easily have been behind by a score or two.

Edinburgh soon stretched their lead, with Bennett this time touching down after good work by scrum-half Ben Vellacott. Kinghorn’s conversion made it 14-5.

A Dan Jones penalty reduced the lead by three points, but Edinburgh then claimed try No 3 in the last minute of the half. Vellacott snaffled the ball from the base of a ruck, Mata took it on, and then Darcy Graham seized possession and burst free of three would-be tacklers to score. Kinghorn’s conversion attempt was off target this time, but a 19-8 half-time lead was far better than Edinburgh could have expected after their difficult opening quarter.

Scarlets thought they had got a try back early in the second half when Steff Evans slid in at the left corner under Graham’s tackle, but a replay showed the winger had put a foot in touch before he got the ball down. There were no doubts after 50 minutes, however, when Kieran Hardy raced through a gap between Bennett and Pierre Schoeman to touch down. Dan Jones’ conversion made it a four-point game.

Graham hit back with a brilliant break, giving Edinburgh a try bonus point. 

Kinghorn converted, and that gave Edinburgh an 11-point. With 15 minutes to play it was cut to four points again when Johnny McNicholl finished off on the right and substitute Sam Costelow added the conversion, but the home team had the strength to see the match out.

“Winning a game like that with a bonus point is great,” Blair added. “We have got a bonus-point win against a top-class Scarlets side but there is lots of stuff we can do better.”


Edinburgh: Tries: Kinghorn, Bennett, Graham 2. Cons: Kinghorn 3.
Scarlets: Tries: Steff Evans, Hardy, McNicholl. Cons: Jones, Costelow. Pen: Jones.

Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-5, 5-5, 7-5, 12-5, 14-5, 14-8, 19-8 half-time, 19-13, 19-15, 24-15, 26-15, 26-20, 26-22.

Edinburgh: H Immelman; D Graham, M Bennett, C Hutchison (J Lang 45), J Blain; B Kinghorn (J van der Walt 68), B Vellacott (H Pyrgos 73); P Schoeman, S McInally (D Cherry 60), L Atalifo (W Nel 53), M Sykes (J Hodgson 60), G Gilchrist (captain), J Ritchie, L Crosbie (C Boyle 69), V Mata. 

Scarlets: J McNicholl; R Conbeer, J Davies (captain), S Williams, Steff Evans; D Jones (S Costelow 60), K Hardy (D Blacker 60); R Evans (P Price 60), R Elias (M Jones 58), S Lee (W John 53), A Shingler, T Price (T Phillips 53, I Nicholas 73), B Thomson, D Davis (S Evans 73), S Kalamafoni. 

Referee: A Brace (Ireland).

Attendance: 5,330.