DAVID BARNES @ Hive Stadium
IT felt at times like the fierce wind was going to carry the canvas stands at the Hive Stadium away, but Edinburgh didn’t let themselves be blown off track as they bounced back from a turbulent start to build a commanding half-time lead, which they held onto with some dogged defence throughout a less impressive second period.
Two tries in the final quarter gave Castres hope, but Edinburgh slammed the door shut to ensure that their opponents took nothing from the game. That leaves these two sides along with Black Lion from Georgia and Clermont all tied on five points in Pool 3 with two games left to play. Gloucester lead the way on eight points and Scarlets are yet to register a point. All of which means Edinburgh’s destiny is very much in their own hands with their remaining matches against Gloucester at home on 13th January and Scarlets away six days later. They must finish in the top four to make the knock-out stages.
Playing against 14-men for 71 minutes, and scoring two tries when they faced just 13 players during the final 10 minutes of the first half, Edinburgh certainly benefitted from Castres’ ill-discipline – but assistant coach Stevie Lawrie preferred to focus on his team’s performance rather than reflect on the opposition’s failings when he spoke after the game.
“Plenty to work on following the second half, I think,” he surmised. “It’s always tough when you turn around and you’re into the wind. Part of the strategy is to hold the ball a little bit longer and you can’t be loose with it so I think we’ll reflect hard on that second half.
“The pleasing bit for me was probably the last minute in terms of the importance of the pool stage because given results [elsewhere] it’s been blown wide open, and it was important they didn’t get one or two bonus points at the end. The boys managed it well and came away with the five points.
“They got a red card and it obviously favours you, but sometimes you can not do what you need to, so I’m pleased that the boys stuck to the game-plan and it was obviously nice that Matt Currie got the fourth try before half-time otherwise it would have been squeaky bum time for the second half,” he added.
“Our focus turns to the 1872 Cup now, it’s an exciting time, and then we get back into the Challenge Cup.”
Edinburgh had to bounce back from a disastrous start when a loose pass from Grant Gilchrist inside the Castres 22 was scooped up by Antione Bouzerand, who darted all the way home unchallenged for the opening score with just one minute and 50m seconds on the clock.
The home response came just four minutes later when Ben Healy sent a kickable penalty to the corner, creating the field position for Wes Goosen to go over in the right following a slick move featuring sharp hands from Ali Price,Currie and Healy, as well as excellent decoy runs from James Lang and Harry Paterson – although Castres were left frustrated when referee Adam Jones chose not to rescind the try despite the big screen replay suggesting that a foot had been in touch. They may have had a point.
Castres then suffered a second significant blow in quick succession when Fijian centre Adrea Cocagi made no attempt to lower his tackle height and ended up making head-on-head contact with Patterson, which inevitably prompted a red-card, and required the Edinburgh full-back to depart the field for an HIA which he didn’t return from.
That meant Darcy Graham came off the bench for his first Edinburgh appearance this season following knee and hip injuries which had kept him out since the World Cup, and who was soon popping up all over the park to hot-step past defenders like he had never been away, even if there wasn’t that much doing.
It took Edinburgh a while to make their numerical advantage count, but, after some fairly turgid play in the middle of the park, they battled their way into the Castres strike-zone, and a Jamie Ritchie turnover, a Pierre Schoeman carry and a long looping pass from Healy sent Duhan van der Merwe in on the left.
Healy missed his second touchline conversion but made some amends when he fired home a holding-on penalty from halfway, forced by an excellent Hamish Watson jackal, and then Castres were reduced to 13 men for the final 10 minutes of the half when tight-head prop Aurelien Azar was sent to the cooler for continually standing up at scrum time.
Edinburgh took advantage with two tries before the break: the first from Price, who answered some of the doubts which have been voiced over the last year about his attacking threat with a dummy, a hand-off and a burst of pace from scrappy scrum ball on the 22; the second from Currie who hit an excellent line onto Healy’s flat pass to cut Castres wide open.
With a new front-row, Castres fired out the blocks at the start of the second half with the wind at their backs and scrum-half Gauthier Doubrere was twice held up over the line, by Currie the first time and Glen Young the second time. There was also a thunderous hit by Goosen on opposite number Bouzerand as Edinburgh defended stoutly but couldn’t escape their own half.
There was one promising attack when van der Merwe did well to gather Healy’s cross-kick the offloaded off the deck to Lang, who fed Goosen before they ran out of room on the left, and that seemed to reignite Edinburgh’s attacking spark with Watson sniffing out a gap, but the high error count meant the game had turned into a bit of a stalemate.
That was until a rampaging diagonal run from van der Merwe swept past Castres’ pedestrian defence for a try in the corner, and Healy stroked home an excellent conversion into the wind on his wrong side.
But it wasn’t quite over yet because Castres’ replacement loose-head Wayan de Benedittis muscled over with 13 minutes to go after a period of pressure on the Edinburgh line, then old Glasgow Warriors favourite Leone Nakarawa came off the bench to score for the visitors with 10 minutes to go, and Geoffrey Palis knocked over two easy conversions, which opened up the very real prospect of two bonus points for the visitors, and the outside prospect of a comeback victory.
But Edinburgh regained their composure (aided by an electrifying Ben Vellacott break to ease the pressure) to close out the win, which was comfortable enough but perhaps not as convincing as it should have been.
Edinburgh Rugby: H Paterson (D Graham 9); W Goosen, M Currie (M Bennett 67), J Lang, D van der Merwe; B Healy, A Price (B Vellacott 60); P Schoeman (R Hislop 62), E Ashman (D Cherry 49), J Sebastian (D Rae 41), G Young, G Gilchrist (M Sykes, 60), J Ritchie (L Crosbie 56), H Watson, V Mata.
Castres: G Palis (T Chabouni 69); N Hulleu, A Seguret, A Cocagi, A Bouzerand; P Popeli (Botitu 56), G Doubrere ( Fernandez 56); L Guerois-Galisson (W de Benedittis 40), P Colonna (L Zarantonello 40), A Azar (A Papalii 40, B Delaporte 56), G Maravat, F Vanverberghe (L Nakarawa 52), M Babillot, B Cope, A Papalii (W Hounkpatin 33).
Referee: Adam Jones
Edinburgh: Tries: Goosen, van der Merwe 2, Price, Currie; Con: Healy 2; Pen: Healy.
Castres: Tries: Bouzerand, de Benedittis, Nakarawa; Con: Popelin, Palis 2.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 10-7; 13-7; 18-7; 20-7; 25-7; 27-7 (h-t) 32-7; 34-7; 34-12; 34-14; 34-19; 34-21;
Yellow cards –
Castres: Azar (30 mins)
Red cards –
Castres: Cocagi (9 mins)