Edinburgh miss out at the end of an encouraging campaign

Charlie Talbot-Smith
14 June 2019

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It will end as a season of mixed emotions for Edinburgh – a breakthrough in Europe but a step backwards in the Guinness PRO14.

Conference B was so tight but Richard Cockerill’s men ended up fifth after their final day defeat to Glasgow Warriors.

That means European Champions Cup rugby will not be theirs next season – a shame after this campaign’s breakthrough to the quarter-finals for the first time in seven years.

But they can console themselves with the 1872 Cup that remains theirs for another year and have plenty to build on.

Key strengths

It almost seems remarkable that Edinburgh finished up outside of the Finals Series and Europe’s top table.

They were, after all, a team that kicked their goals better than any other in the league, enjoyed more possession than any other side and had the best scrum in the competition.

 

Areas to improve

But despite all their possession, their attack could be predictable.

Only Zebre and Dragons scored fewer tries in the Guinness PRO14 and part of the problem was a lack of offloads, only 103 all season, – every single other team in the league managed more.

That is all the more surprising when you think of Bill Mata who produced perhaps the most outrageous offload of all this campaign, setting up James Johnstone for a crucial try in Europe.

In terms of clean breaks only the Kings and the Dragons were worse and in the end, that bluntness plus a lack of turnovers, 4.8 a game was 12th of the 14 teams, proved their undoing.

Star moment

In the league, Edinburgh’s high point was probably their back-to-back wins over Glasgow Warriors at Christmas time.

The highlight was Duhan van der Merwe’s double interception exploits in the first win as the 1872 Cup was retained in fairly straightforward fashion against a Glasgow team that would go on to finish league runners-up.

But the winner-takes-call European pool clash with Montpellier at the start of 2019 was the stand-out – Darcy Graham’s second-half try the key despite Hamish Watson’s injury to put them back in the knockout stages at Europe’s top table.

Breakout player

Hard to look past the Prince of Hawick Darcy Graham here.

Of course, the youngster had shown flashes previously but this year he consistently proved himself as Edinburgh’s star back.

Blair Kinghorn was missing for large chunks of the campaign with injury, and Graham proved an able deputy at full-back as well as on the wing.

Just ask England who struggled to contain the speedster at Twickenham in the Calcutta Cup classic.

A word too for Pierre Schoeman the loosehead prop who has fast become a cult hero in the Scottish capital, gets through mountains of work in the loose while remaining the cornerstone of a consistent set-piece.

Key man

They standout star can only be the great man at No.8, big Bill Mata.

The Fijian back row star – a former Olympic gold medallist in 7s in Rio – carries the chief threat for Edinburgh and got through mountains of work.

His 290 carries in the league this year were more than any other player from any team – and it wasn’t even really that close.

His efforts were rewarded at the Guinness PRO14 end of season awards with the players’ player of the year gong.

Also worth mentioning Van der Merwe on the wing who, when fit, was a force of nature. He was in the top ten for metres made in the league and also beat the third most defenders in scoring some vital tries.

Who’s in?

Next year, Cockerill has moved to make some changes in the front row and also opted for another Fijian flair merchant.

Eroni Sau will bring the latter, while up front the grunt is provided by Jamie Bhatti – making the short trip over from Glasgow – and Mike Willemse.

Throw in Murray Douglas and Nick Haining and it is clear that Cockerill means business in the 2019/20 campaign.

Who’s out?

There are some key departures to contend with however, Allan Dell heading south to London Irish for one.

Nathan Fowles is also moving on along with Senitiki Nayalo.

And it is farewell to the great Ross Ford after over a decade of service, while Sean Kennedy, Luke Hamilton and Tom Brown are also headed for pastures new.

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