Edinburgh slumped to a second consecutive pre season defeat on Friday night, this time at the hands of 2011 Heineken Cup finalists Northampton Saints (54-3). Comprehensively outplayed by their more silky and more efficient English counterparts, the Scottish side must raise their game for the arrival of Munster in a week’s time in the Pro 12.
Edinburgh fielded a youthful side, deciding to bed in new summer signings instead of experienced members. Lack of experience may have proved costly as handling errors, poor defence, feeble attack and indiscipline were prominent throughout. Northampton turned up with a silky back line of Ben Foden, Ken Pisi and Vasily Artemyev, experienced half backs of Lee Dickson and Ryan Lamb and the might of prop Soane Tonga’uiha up front.
Before Ryan Lamb got proceedings under way, Murrayfield stood together to remember the life of Scotland Under 21 lock forward Mitchell Todd – known by both Edinburgh and Northampton players – who died last week in a car crash in Nottingham.
The opening 5 minutes gave the Murrayfield faithful some expectation of a decent match. Georgian open side flanker Dimitri Basilaia bulldozed his way through the Northampton mid field before fly-half Gregor Hunter cleared to the half way line. Northampton’s first attack gave the Edinburgh defence a sense of things to come as they skilfully spread the ball out wide to wings Pisi and Artemyev who would continue to reek havoc throughout. Deep in the Scottish 22, a poor pass gave the hosts a chance to clear their lines.
As has become the norm, Northampton’s scrum power was overwhelming; forcing turnovers and penalties regularly. And this is where the first penalty came from. Lamb chose to kick to the corner and once again pressure the Edinburgh line. A crunching tackle from Basilaia forced an impressive turnover and Hunter once again cleared the line, only to find Ben Foden. In a mazy run, Foden fixed the oncoming defence and served Dom Waldouck who eventually found Artemyev racing down the left wing, the Russian making an explosive opening. Quick ball for Dickson and slick hands between backs and forwards bamboozled the Edinburgh defence and flank forward Tom Wood cruised over for the first try of the match. Lamb’s conversion drifted wide of the uprights. Northampton led without having to work very hard at all.
Edinburgh, caught napping tried to retaliate and by winning the restart sought to do just that. Immediately they regathered the ball, Cardiff imported Scrum Half Ritchie Rees served Hunter who found former All Black Ben Atiga hitting the line, making significant ground. Quick ball ensured front foot possession for the hosts and they pounded the stubborn Saints defence forcing themselves deep into the 22m. A series of pick and go attempts resulted in nothing more than a penalty; Hunter slotting the 3 points to narrow the gap to 2 after 10 minutes.
And that was going to be their lot. Pummelled at scrum time and indiscipline in the tackle zone meant that possession was effectively starved from the home side. Northampton continued to mount serious attacks and it was only a matter of time before they scored again, this time Tonga’uiha cruising past some pretty brittle Edinburgh “tackles”. Lamb made sure of the conversion this time to increase the lead to 9 points.
While both sides played at pace, Northampton made it count by being more efficient and accurate. Foden was a constant threat with ball in and out of hand; his out of hand kicking was inch perfect in pushing Edinburgh back into their own 22m area. Edinburgh did have chances however; penalties were won well and Hunter made good ground in finding touch. But if there was one aspect of Edinburgh’s game that summed up the night, it was the lineout. Far too often a resulting penalty lineout was lost when try scoring chances were available, frustrating coach Michael Bradley no end.
They had to get their accuracy right, because every time they didn’t, Northampton would counter, and the ubiquitous Artemyev and Foden would make the most of gifted possession. The Saints marched their way back into Edinburgh territory. If not for a forward pass, they would have been in again. 12-3 at the break was probably a disappointment for the Saints as chances to extend the lead were almost as long as your arm. Edinburgh were just relieved to have not conceded more.
But for the home side, the evening was only going to get worse. Chris Leck was on for Rees who had impressed on his first start and Basilaia made way for Hamish Watson. Northampton started the second period as they finished the first. An easy turnover provided an early opportunity to extend the lead. Lamb whipped the ball wide, but rather than finding Ken Pisi, it found former Saint Greig Tonks. Blushes spared yet again. There were perhaps more chances for the Black and Red to challenge despite a staunch English rush defence. Tom Brown managed to get his hands on the ball, chipping it forward for Sepp Visser to chase. Foden gathered and was swiftly dragged into touch by the Dutchman. Finally, Murrayfield had found its voice.
Needless to say, this chance was squandered by sloppy handling and Northampton were licking their lips at the prospect of another glorious counter attack. Working their way down to the 22m, they recycled the ball quickly and Phil Dowson slid in at the corner. Edinburgh found themselves under the posts as Lamb made it 19-3 after 45 minutes. And they were back there 5 minutes later. A series of missed tackles and slick interplay from Foden, Dowson and George Pisi carried the Saints to within a couple of yards of the line, before a carefully floated pass to captain Dylan Hartley made it 26-3. Mission impossible for Edinburgh now.
Edinburgh would be down to 14 men ten minutes later. After a quick cross field kick from a Northampton penalty, James King took out Artemyev in the air. The movement continued though, replacement Scrum Half Martin Roberts nipping over in the corner (33-3). With the game already secured, Northampton turned on the style with some scintillating play from Foden and the Pisi brothers Ken and George. Slick handling down the right hand touchline left Ken Pisi to side step his way to the first of two tries, to put an emphatic look to the scoreline. His second was very similar and followed soon after, but not before Foden strolled under the sticks.
The match ended a comprehensive 54-3 to the visitors, a result that in one extreme will leave Northampton feeling confident of Aviva Premiership success as well as establishing European Cup hopes. In the other extreme, the result gives Edinburgh much to think about, despite fielding an inexperienced side. Overall, it was a game of one half with a 15 minute pause in the middle. The match promised a good game, but the result was ultimately never in doubt once the whistle blew.