A CLINICAL and disciplined second-half performance from Edinburgh produced a bonus-point win in France and booked their place in the last 16 of the Champions Cup. It has been a tough few months for Mike Blair’s side, and this was a team missing a handful of key players, but they played with impressive conviction and self-belief as they battled back from a 21-14 half-time deficit to score 20 unanswered points and ruthlessly close-out the match after the break.
Edinburgh have one pool match remaining in the competition, at home to Saracens next Sunday evening. They will feel they have a point to prove after coming up agonisingly short against the English side in Barnet at the start of the campaign, and they will recognise that the higher they finish in Pool A the more favourable their draw is likely to be in the knock-out stage. But a lot of pressure has been lifted, which gives head coach Blair some room to manoeuvre as he tries to manage his injury-ravaged squad back towards something closer to full-strength.
“To get through with a round to spare is excellent, especially when you consider we were up against two teams that were in the final of their domestic competitions last year,” said Blair. “But a win next weekend will give us a home round of 16 draw which will be a really good achievement as there are so many teams in there with quality. So, we want to stretch ourselves, and we want to win at home.”.
This is the first time in 28 seasons of European competition that both Scottish teams have won away on French soil in the same weekend. https://t.co/SXhQp0DTJl
— Kevin Millar (@topofthemoonGW) January 15, 2023
“The strategy was to keep the ball in play in order to fatigue Castres, and while not everything went to plan, they did look very tired towards the end,” he added. “We also kept our starters on for a fair bit of the game because we felt they were accustomed to the wet and windy conditions when the stiff breeze was against us, and I think that paid off for us.”
Blair had some specific words of praise for winger Blair Kinghorn, who shrugged off recent disappointments around the failed – or at least stalled – attempt to convert him into an international stand-off to kick six from six off the tee in this match.
“I’m really chuffed for him because he had a number of real pressure kicks, and he nailed them all,” said the coach. “You tend to watch the kickers and when they turn away relatively quickly you know they have got them and Blair turned away pretty quickly on all of them. He looks at his game with a very critical eye and this kicking will be very good for his confidence.”
A slick attack featuring a neat pop from Cammy Hutchison to Charlie Savala on the wrap-around created an early opportunity on the right for Edinburgh, but the final pass to Jack Blain dropped at the winger’s toes. However, the visitors didn’t not have to wait long for the opening score, with a scrum penalty being kicked to the corner and hooker Dave Cherry getting the ball down after bursting off the back of a powerful maul.
Castres were not ready to roll over and a galloping run from second-row Theo Hannoyer split Edinburgh wide open, initiating a sweeping attack which led to a yellow-card for Blair Kinghorn for diving in from an offside position in a desperate attempt to slow home momentum. From the tap, the hosts headed right towards Kinghorn’s wing, with Benjamin Urdapilleta‘s grubber kick being gobbled up by Josaia Raisuqe for the French team’s opening try.
The hosts kept turning the screw during this 10 minute period with an extra man, and Edinburgh passed up an opportunity to relieve some pressure when their line-out malfunctioned five yards from their own line. This led directly to the home team’s second try with a powerful scrum providing the platform for inside-centre Adrien Seguret to step inside Charlie Shiel and scuttle over.
Once back to full strength, Edinburgh regained their foothold, and after two long passages of play which wore down their heavyweight opponents, Viliame Mata rumbled over to set up a Kinghorn conversion which tied the contest with half an hour played.
Castres spent the final five minutes of the first half on the front foot. Raisuqe should really have got his second but he failed to hold onto Urdapilleta’s clever cross-kick, then a few minutes later a Wilfrid Hounkpatin charge took play back deep into Edinburgh’s 22, and after Dave Cherry was sent to the bin for killing the ball, tight-head prop Hounkpatin took the tap and powered over, with Urdapilleta’s conversion making it 21-14 to the hosts at the break.
A wonderful piece of ingenuity from centre Hutchison pulled Edinburgh back level five minutes into the second half, when he released the ball in the tackle but jumped straight back to his feet to pick-up and go again, motoring past Castres’ dozy defence and under the posts to set up an easy conversion for Kinghorn.
It took a fine cover tackle from Henry Immelman to dislodge possession from Raisuqe’s grasp after he had scooped up a loose ball and made a bee-line for the try-line, with Cherry getting back to rescue possession. Then came Edinburgh’s chance of an opportunist try when Kinghorn intercepted on halfway but couldn’t quite keep his feet after a tap-tackle from Raisuqe, and his offload from the deck floated marginally forward.
Edinburgh finally snatched the lead just after the hour mark when Mata made a big dent with a No 8 pick-up, and when he was eventually brought down, replacement scrums-half Ben Vellacott sniped, repeating Hutchison’s earlier trick by releasing in the tackle and bouncing straight back to his feet to scuttle under the posts.
Kinghorn converted again, and then added six more points through a collapsed maul penalty and a hands in the ruck penalty to open up 13-points of breathing space between his side and the now totally demoralised hosts.
Castres: T Larregain; M Laveau (K Kornath 4), V Botitu (A Cocagi 54), A Seguret, G Palis; B Urdapilleta, G Doubrere (S Arata Perrone 60-62); Q Walcker (M Tierney 45), G Barlot (P Colonna, 59), W Hounkpatin (A Azar 39), L Nakarawa (R Pieterse 49, T Staniforth 70), T Hannoyer, B Cope, J Raisuqe, T Ben-Nicholas.
Edinburgh: H Immelman; J Blain, M Bennett, C Hutchison (C Scott 75), B Kinghorn; C Savala, C Shiel (B Vellacott 50); P Schoeman (N Auterac 73), D Cherry (T Cruse 64), W Nel (L Atalifo 73), M Sykes (T Cruse 44-47, J Hodgson 58), G Gilchrist, S Skinner, J Ritchie, V Mata (N Haining 75).
Castres: Tries: Raisuqe, Seguret, Hounkpatin; Con: Urdapilleta 3.
Edinburgh: Tries: Cherry, Mata, Hutchison, Vellacott; Con: Kinghorn 4; Pen: Kinghorn 2.
Scoring sequence (Castres first): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 7-7; 12-7; 14-7; 14-12; 14-14; 19-14; 21-14 (h-t) 21-19; 21-21; 21-26; 21-28; 21-31; 21-34.
Yellow cards –
Edinburgh: Kinghorn (13mins), Cherry (37mins)