Pro14: Edinburgh 31-21 Scarlets: Magnificent Mata inspires bonus-point win
|Edinburgh (17) 31|
|Tries: Mata 2, Brown 2, Schoeman Cons: Hickey 2, Socino|
|Scarlets (14) 21|
|Tries: Williams, Asquith, McNicholl Cons: Jones 3|
Edinburgh climbed to third in Pro14 Conference B after an entertaining bonus-point win over Scarlets.
Bill Mata and Tom Brown - twice - scored first-half tries for the hosts but Scarlets struck through Morgan Williams and Paul Asquith to trail by just three points at the break.
Johnny McNicholl briefly gave them the lead after Simon Hickey was sin-binned.
But Pierre Schoeman burrowed over for Edinburgh's fourth try, and Mata's clever late second sealed the victory.
Mountain Mata Edinburgh's fulcrum
Both teams were heavily depleted by injuries and international call-ups, with Edinburgh shorn of 22 players.
With so many out, the onus was on those left behind to deliver. Ally Miller, a 22-year-old debutant on the open-side flank, 20 and 21-year-old locks Jamie Hodgson and Callum Hunter-Hill all stepped up.
And fortunately for Richard Cockerill, he could still call upon Mata, his colossus and the focal point for so much of Edinburgh's play. The monstrous Fijian added another 24 carries - and 84m - to his remarkable league-best haul of 100.
The behemoth got Edinburgh going in the eighth minute when he rumbled and spun over from a line-out drive, Hickey converting.
With Scarlets' first attack, they drew level. Kieron Fonotia swerved past Hickey and a smart off-load released Williams, who beat Brown to score. Dan Jones slotted the conversion.
In between the tries, Scotland call-up Blade Thomson was carried from the field after his head struck the knee of Edinburgh lock Callum Hunter-Hill. It looked like the big New Zealander had been knocked out. A blow for Scarlets and for Gregor Townsend, the Scotland head coach.
When the lengthy delay ended, Edinburgh revved again. They thundered into rucks, blasting Scarlets jackalers off the ball, but had to rattle through a mountain of phases to breach the whitewash.
They blew one opportunity when Pyrgos forced a pass, but Mata, as ever, was cannier on the ball. The titan punctured the line, was hauled down a metre or so short, and sent a cleverly delayed off-load out to Brown who scurried in. Hickey's conversion attempt was wide.
Brown, the winger playing just his second competitive game of 2018, went over again with 29 minutes gone after another relentless period of attack and a beautiful floated ball from Pyrgos. Hickey, once more, was off-target from wide on the right.
With a minute of the half remaining, a dull Edinburgh infringement allowed Scarlets to mount their second serious attack and score their second try. A sumptuous Jones grubber was perfectly weighted for the searing Asquith to gather and score, the fly-half converting to make it 17-14.
Edinburgh had been utterly dominant, but the Scarlets were ruthless. The hosts played with a vicious tempo to their attack, earned over 70% of the possession and territory, scored three tries, yet led by only three at the break. A pitiful and maddening return for their supremacy.
Edinburgh falter but recover well
They suffered again after the interval, Scarlets powering into the home 22 and pinning Edinburgh there for an age. Raid followed raid. Penalty followed penalty. At the third successive Edinburgh transgression, Hickey was sent to the bin. Scarlets opted for a scrummage and McNicholl stepped Juan Pablo Socino to race home. Jones converted and the visitors led for the first time.
The Edinburgh response was good, particularly since it came while reduced in number. They kicked a penalty to the corner, and after a few drives, Schoeman blasted over for the bonus-point score. Socino converted.
The contest ebbed and flowed in the final quarter as both teams sought a knockout blow. Error followed infringement. Ross Ford, the 34-year-old Scotland hooker, made a sensational cover tackle on Fonotia as the centre threatened to break clear up the left flank.
It was Edinburgh who prevailed. In the final five minutes, the forwards won a penalty, Hickey booted them into the corner, and Simon Gardiner was binned for illegally infiltrating the maul. A second line-out drive was suspiciously halted short when heading for the line at a rate of knots. But Mata's innovative feint-and-leap finish put the game to bed. Hickey converted and the Scarlets left with nothing.
Edinburgh: Fife; Brown, Johnstone, Dean, Van der Merwe; Hickey, Pyrgos (capt); Schoeman, Ford, McCallum, Hodgson, Hunter-Hill, Hamilton, Miller, Mata.
Replacements: Cherry, Sutherland, Ceccarelli, Atkinson, Wynne, Fowles, Baggott; Socino.
Scarlets: McNicholl; Nicholas, Fonotia, Asquith, Williams; Jones, Hidalgo-Clyne; Price, Elias, Kruger, Cummins, Bulbring, Thomson, Macleod, Boyde (capt).
Replacements: Hughes, Evans, Gardiner, Price, Kennedy, Hardy, Blommetjies, Cassiem.