It was tight and, at times, scrappy and the Scots at least have a losing bonus point to show for their efforts. Combined with the win over the Sharks last week, it adds up to a decent return for Mike Blair’s side from their mini-tour. They remain hot on the heels of Glasgow Warriors in the United Rugby Championship standings with three rounds of regular season fixtures remaining.
The Lions outscored their visitors by two tries to nil and just about served their victory in the rarefied atmosphere of Ellis Park.
The ball flies further in the thin air of the Highveld and Blair had joked on the eve of the game about WP Nel dropping a goal from the halfway line in training. But Henry Immelman did exactly that in the 12th minute to give Edinburgh the lead. It was an impressive execution by the big full-back who gathered Jordan Hendrikse’s drop out, set himself, then unleashed a huge kick which cleared the crossbar by several meters.
Edinburgh had begun the game rather cautiously but Immelman’s drop goal seemed to pep them up and Grant Gilchrist was unlucky to be penalized in a rare excursion into the Lions 22.
The home team had the bulk of the possession and had the chance to draw level but Hendrikse was off target with a penalty effort from wide on the left.
It was cagey and untidy and the flow wasn’t helped by a two-and-a-half minute hold-up while referee Gianluca Gnecchi checked for some vague infringement on the big screen.
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Edinburgh edged further ahead through Boffelli’s 45-metre penalty in the 27th minute after Francke Horn was punished for a no-arms tackle on Pierre Schoeman.
It seemed to sting the Lions into action and they produced the best moment of the first half two minutes later when Hendrikse scored the game’s opening try. Scrum-half Morne van den Berg was the creator, sniping down the blindside before passing to Edwill van der Merwe who took the ball into tackle before offloading to the stand-off who had a clear run to the line. Hendrikse was wayward with his attempt to convert his own try.
Van den Berg was looking lively and had another surge into the Edinburgh 22 but overcooked his chip as time ebbed away in the first half.
Kinghorn looked to have put Edinburgh further ahead with a delightfully taken try in the corner but the score was chalked off after Ben Vellacott allowed the ball to go forward when tackled in the build-up.
Things started to go awry for the visitors after that, with Magnus Bradbury shown the yellow card for tackling Horn before the Lions flanker had received the ball. Two minutes later, the South Africans moved ahead for the first time in the game and, again, the try came down the short side.
It stemmed from a lineout drive and the Lions worked it well down the narrow channel, playing in Vincent Tshituka for the score which Hendrikse converted.
Boffelli’s second penalty of the match brought Edinburgh to within three points with 17 minutes remaining but Hendrikse countered with one of his own shortly afterwards to restore the Lions’ six-point advantage.
Mark Bennett’s late attempt to salvage the match for Edinburgh was thwarted when he was held up over the line by Quan Horn, the Lions full-back.
Scorers: Emirates Lions: Tries: Hendrikse, V Tshituka. With: Hendrikse. Pen: Hendrikse.
Edinburgh: Pens: Boffelli 2. Drop goal: Immelman.
Emirates Lions: Quan Horn; Rabz Maxwane, Wandisile Simelane, Manuel Rass, Edwill van der Merwe; Jordan Hendrikse, Morne van den Berg (Andre Warner 65); JP Smith, PJ Botha, Carlu Sadie (Asenathi Ntlabakanye 35), Ruben Schoeman, Reinhard Nothnagel, Francke Horn, Vincent Tshituka, Emmanuel Tshituka.
Replacements: Morne Brandon, Ruan Dreyer, Ruan Venter, Sibusiso Sangweni, Henco van Wyk, Tiaan van Wyk.
Edinburgh Rugby: Henry Immelman (Jaco van der Walt 65); Darcy Graham, Mark Bennett, James Lang (Matt Currie 70), Emiliano Boffelli; Blair Kinghorn, Ben Vellacott (Charlie Shiel 62); Pierre Schoeman (Boan Venter 65), Stuart McInaly (Dave Cherry 45), WP Nel (Luan de Bruin 62), Pierce Phillips (Glen Young 56), Grant Gilchrist, Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson (Connor Boyle 45), Ben Muncaster.
Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR).