Graham scores four as Edinburgh secure European Quarter-Final
Edinburgh secured their place in the Challenge Cup Quarter-Finals as Darcy Graham scored four tries to put French side Agen to the sword.
In an often turgid encounter, it was Graham's inspired finishing ability that was truly the difference between the two sides as the Scotland international winger became the first player in the club's history to score four tries in a single match.
It was Graham's first-half, 13 minute hat trick that put Edinburgh 22-0 up at the half and although the capital club never got out of third gear, further scores from the winger and his back-three partner Duhan van der Merwe added some extra spice to the scoreline.
Edinburgh are now likely to face Bordeaux-Bègles at Stade Chaban-Delmas in the knockout stages, with that tie dependent on RC Toulon's match against Bayonne this evening.
It was a great start for Edinburgh, when within a minute of the first whistle, some smooth interplay between Jaco van der Walt and fellow countryman Duhan van der Merwe brought the capital side to within ten metres of the line. A scrum followed, but the visitors were penalised by referee Craig Maxwell-Keys under their own posts and it was textbook for Van der Walt as he slotted the kick for the first three points. [3-0]
Agen responded well, with a bolstered defence and some impressive drives into Edinburgh territory, but the capital club soaked up the pressure well. What followed was a seemingly endless period of push-and-pull between the sides. A collection of scrums and lineouts provided no real comfort for Edinburgh, and Agen were struggling to make it past the home side’s back line in a real end-to-end game of rugby.
It would be only after almost 25 minutes of this tug-of-war of possession that Edinburgh would finally break the deadlock. A successful line-out saw George Taylor hit a perfect line, and crash his way through the initial Agen defenders. This just left the centre to pop the ball up to an oncoming Darcy Graham, who hurdled the last two men and crashed onto the try-line for Edinburgh’s first try of the match. Jaco van der Walt added the extras to put Edinburgh into double figures. [10-0]
Although still a tough contest, Edinburgh were now beginning to play with a bit more authority, and ten minutes later, it was Darcy again in a moment of magic, as he took off on a solo run after an offload on the halfway line. The youngster was never going to be caught as he trotted over the whitewash out wide to put Edinburgh in a more comfortable position at 15-0.
Following this, it was barely two minutes until half-time, but that meant nothing to Edinburgh, as a scrum just five metres out left the backline to drill the ball along, all the way out to Darcy. It was second nature for the winger, as he juked past the last man to touch down for a well-worked try, and wrap up a sensational first-half hat-trick. Jaco van der Walt added the conversion to leave the score at 22-0 as both teams headed for the tunnel.
The second-half began much the same as the first, with an ever-constant battle for possession. Surges from the likes of skipper Nic Groom and Duhan van der Merwe had brought Edinburgh to within inches of the line a couple of times but the French side were impressive in their valiant efforts in defence.
Finally though, after 27 minutes of stalemate, it was that man again. Darcy Graham was the spark that restarted the fire as he picked the ball from a set piece to nip between two Agen defenders and race away. There was no stopping Graham as he strode between the posts with confidence for an incredible fourth try of the game – the first time anyone has scored four tries in a European match for Edinburgh. The ball went down, Simon Hickey stepped up, the ball went between the posts, and the scoreboard flashed a well-deserved score-line of 29-0.
There was more fuel left in Edinburgh’s tank though, even after their steadfast efforts in both defence and attack. Graham must have decided to let the others in on the glory this time, as it was Duhan van der Merwe who took the points. An electric run from the South African was cut short as the Agen defence brought him down within reaching distance of the line. A scrum followed but Van der Merwe's confidence wasn’t dented as he was the one to snatch the pass from Simon Hickey and race over the line for the final try in a hard-fought victory. Hickey added the two extra points to close the match right before full time, with a final scoreline of 36-0.
Edinburgh's next home fixture is on over a month as the capital club welcome Conference B rivals Connacht to BT Murrayfield on Friday 21 February (kick-off 7.35pm).
live commentary 3:00 PM Saturday 18 Jan 2020
Nic Groom9. Scrum half
Jaco Van Der Walt10. Flyhalf
Duhan Van Der Merwe11. Left Wing
George Taylor12. Inside Centre
Mark Bennett13. Outside Centre
Darcy Graham14. Right Wing
Damien Hoyland15. Full Back
Pierre Schoeman1. Loosehead
Dave Cherry2. Hooker
WP Nel3. Tighthead
Ben Toolis4. Lock
Grant Gilchrist5. Lock
Luke Crosbie6. Blindside Flanker
Hamish Watson7. Openside Flanker
Nick Haining8. Number 8