Connacht v Edinburgh: dismal defeat finally ends Scots’ play-off hopes

A late try by Blair Kinghorn secures a bonus point as the visitors go down to an eighth defeat in nine league outings

Mike Blair
Mike Blair's Edinburgh side have fallen to 14th in the URC table. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

Connacht 41

Edinburgh 26

EDINBURGH’s faint hopes of clambering back into the URC play-off places evaporated at last as they went down to an eighth defeat in nine league outings this afternoon.

With two regular-season games still to go, Mike Blair‘s side can – in theory – climb close to the top eight from their lowly position of 14th. But, as the eighth-placed Sharks and ninth-placed Benetton play each other in the next round, at least eight teams will be on or above Edinburgh’s maximum possible total of 43 points. And tournament rules say that if two teams finish on the same number of points, the one that has won more games is placed higher: both the South Africans and Italians would finish above the Scots on that criterion.

But it was no more than academic nit-picking, in any case, to talk of Edinburgh’s chances. On current form, they are simply not in the shape to get anywhere close to challenging the tournament’s big guns.


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At least they scored four tries at the Sportsground in Galway, meaning they flew home with a bonus point. But that was no more than a slight consolation after a match in which the home side were too strong for them physically and too smart for them mentally.

Connacht have now won their last five games – their best run of results since they won the title back in 2016. And that winning streak has come at exactly the right time, propelling them into the top eight.

There is no magic formula behind their revival, just a lot of hard work and self-belief, allied, of course, to a whole lot of talent. Both Connacht and Edinburgh were without some of their senior internationals in the wake of the Six Nations, but the home side proved far more capable of dealing with those absences.

The first five minutes or so, in which Connacht opened the scoring and Edinburgh fluffed a good chance to hit back, summed up the contest. Cathal Forde got the try, and a soft one it was too, as he bounced off a Boan Venter tackle, went outside Emiliano Boffelli then scored in right corner as Blair Kinghorn failed to get properly to grips with him.

Barely 60 seconds later, the visitors mounted a promising attack, and when awarded a penalty sent it to touch. They were then turned over in the maul – far from the last time in the match that the home team would punoish poor ball-protection.

David Hawkshaw stretched his team’s lead with a penalty, then converted Conor Oliver’s close-range try to make it 15-0. Edinburgh hit back late in the half through Lee-Roy Atalifo, and Boffelli converted, but Caolin Blade ran in an interception try – the first of a hat-trick for the captain – to make it 20-7 to Connacht at the break.

 

A converted try by Jarrad Butler stretched that least early in the second half. Bill Mata hit back with his team’s second try, and when Glen Young touched down to make it 27-19, the comeback looked on.

Two yellow cards for the home side gave Edinburgh further hope for a while, but they could not capitalise. When Boffelli was sent to the bin, Connacht showed how to make use of the extra man, running in two tries, both from livewire scrum-half Blade.

It could have got worse inside the final ten minutes, but substitute Nathan Sweeney – making his debut as a professional – got back to deny Connacht a try after Tom Daly had kicked ahead.

Darcy Graham, who was playing his first game of the year after completing his recovery from a knee injury, was well policed by the defence for most of the game. The winger did have a threatening run and kick ahead with minutes left, but Daly mopped up the danger.

Then came the brightest moment of the game from the visitors’ point of view: a piece of quick thinking by Kinghorn, who saw that the ball was out as Connacht tried to clear their lines, and dotted down for the bonus try.

Apart from that, and the cameo appearance from Sweeney, there was little for Edinburgh supporters to enjoy. Damien Hoyland played well, always looking for work and being alert to a gap in the defence, and Mark Bennett was also lively at times. In general, though, it was a game best forgotten, towards the end of a season which is coming to merit the same description.

With little or nothing to play for in the remaining league games against Ospreys and Ulster, Edinburgh’s season now depends on the outcome of their Champions Cup last-16 tie at Leicester on Friday night. They should have Scotland quartet Jamie Ritchie, Pierre Schoeman, Hamish Watson and Duhan van der Merwe back for that game, but they will have to be at their best to have a chance against the Tigers, who beat Bristol 46-24 yesterday.

 

Teams –

Connacht: O McNulty; D Kilgallen (S Jennings 49), T Farrell, C Forde, J Porch; D Hawkshaw (T Daly 61), C Blade (K Marmion 68); P Dooley (J Duggan 54), D Tierney-Martin (D Heffernan 55), J Aungier (D Robertson-McCoy 55), O Dowling, N Murray (D Murray 53), C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler (S Hurley-Langton 60). 

Edinburgh: E Boffelli; D Graham, M Bennett, J Lang (C Dean 64), D Hoyland (N Sweeney 64); B Kinghorn, H Pyrgos (B Vellacott 61); B Venter (L de Bruin 61), S McInally (D Cherry 55), L Atalifo (W Nel 39), S Skinner (M Sykes 63), G Gilchrist, B Muncaster (G Young 49, M Sykes 56-62), C Boyle, V Mata. 

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales).

 

Scorers –

Connacht: Tries: Forde, Oliver, Blade 3, Butler; Cons: Hawkshaw 2, Daly 2; Pen: Hawkshaw.

Edinburgh: Tries: Atalifo, Mata, Young, Kinghorn; Cons: Boffelli 3. 

Scoring sequence (Connacht first): 5-0; 8-0; 13-0; 15-0; 15-5, 15-7; 20-7 (h-t) 25-7; 27-7; 27-12; 27-14; 27-19; 32-19; 34-19; 29-19; 41-19; 41-24; 41-26.

 

Yellow cards –

Connacht: Oliver (48 mins), Dowling (55 mins)

Edinburgh: Boffelli (59 mins)

 

Attendance: 6, 056.


England v Scotland: visitors suffer heavy defeat at hands of champions

About Stuart Bathgate 1407 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

25 Comments

  1. My guess is kinghorn has been a two year plan to allow a 6/2 bench option at the World Cup and he will revert to 15 full time for club and country, immediately after that to replace Hogg.
    Mata has been a fantastic servant to the club in but looks increasingly weary over the last season and half.
    Going to tigers on Friday and will be hoping for the players and coaches to lift themselves to make it a great game. Come on Edinburgh!
    Ps the articles and the quality of comments here on the offside line are better than can be found anywhere imho

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  2. It was obvious at the start of the season that things had slipped massively – in forward play and defence. As we all know forwards and defence win games attack determines by how much been the case for ever . Our forward and defence lacks intensity and structure . Why the fall off . Edinburgh has only ever played with intensity in spurts not the consistent level achieved by top teams – you can see Glasgow are on way to achieving this and it needs to be every player in squad . Callum McRae was a class defence coach an hi departure to italy has seen us slump from one best defensive teams to one of worst .Mike Blair is a good attack coach but attack needs quick ball reliable ball . So the whole coaching team with the exception of Mike Blair as attack coach must go . Mind you it would not surprise me if we win through at the weekend and play with intensity – it’s there but standards week in week out is not .

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  3. Dobie has got to be given more game time and a move to Edinburgh is a good option but if that move is not forthcoming he needs to move to England for his own development. I think Dobie would already do a good job if he started for Scotland and it was only 2 years ago an English journalist predicted Dobie would be the Lions 9 on the next tour but the way he has been managed at Glasgow appears very discouraging.

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  4. It’s a tough time for those involved at Edinburgh. When performance management on and off the field is experienced as it is just now and if it is to continue it concerns me how much of an impact it creates on the psyche of the players. Going forwards for those Edinburgh players who are possibly to be involved in the world cup training squad I’d like to think Aaron Walsh is on hand to support players with their preparations from now and onwards.

  5. This is a sad and undeserved end for Blair at Edinburgh. It is believed that he was manipulated into taking the Edinburgh job at the wrong time against his better judgement, It may have suited financial and personnel planning. He has also been badly let down by the players.

    Toonie for Edinburgh anyone ?

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  6. After looking so promising for a while the teams performance has totally nose dived. Blair is clearly our of his depth and doesn’t have the self confidence to lead a side. I can’t see him being retained and a coaching overhaul is required.

    There are far too many mercenary players in the Edinburgh squad…and it is blocking the path for our Scottish players to develop. The results aren’t there to back up their inclusion. For eg. Mata good player on his day but his attitude sucks and he only plays when he feels like it that day…. there are many more just like him except they are average talent at best…..waste of a shirt and money…we should be developing the likes of Muncaster into an 8.

    We only have 2 pro sides….and we are making a pigs ear of developing talent in what limited player opportunities there are.

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  7. So frustrating we can’t seem to have both Glasgow and Edinburgh playing well at the top end of the table at the same time….. as others have pointed out, Edinburgh have the players, but seemingly cannot develop their own half backs, an issue which has to be resolved for the good of scottish rugby.

  8. The good thing is Edinburgh have the players. They lack direction, belief and motivation. Those are coaching issues. Whilst Blair is an honourable guy no new coach will be able to change things whilst he is in the mix. Let’s hope we find someone really good who can bring in a coaching team around them. Both defence and attack are woeful. Franco has shown what a new coach and coaching set up can do. We just need to be careful that we hang onto the players, find a quality 9 and 10 (yes I know the Irish guy is coming…but he really is unproven) and allow BK to flourish at 15. Apart from the coaching Edinburgh’s biggest problem is in the pivotal 9 and 10 positions. The SRU should move Dobie from Glasgow. Better for him (he needs game time at 9), for Edinburgh (they desperately need a quality 9) and for Scottish Rugby (we need another quality experienced 9).

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    • Interesting idea with Dobie – he certainly needs more game time. The area that still worries me is the forwards – we often have a pack full of internationals but still they fail to dominate anyone both in set piece and breakdown and ability to get over the line from 5m out. There are clearly some technical issues here that you hope coaching should fix but then they often play at International level so these basics should be in place. More generally our defence has become very porous – one try yesterday where their centre waltzed straight through our midfield. Need a more aggressive rush defence and hopefully coaching can fix this.

      We sit 14th in the league with only the perennial whipping boys Dragons and Zebre below us – I can only hope this is the low point and its all up from here

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    • Great minds think alike sir, Dobie to be #1 choice for Edinburgh next season.
      It appears VDW and Savala are fit but persist with BK at 10, as ive said on numerous occasions he cannot play 10, its becoming embarrassing.
      The ease that Connacht scored their tries had red flags all over and indicative of the problems at the club.

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      • VDW was even solid when he got an opportunity for Scotland..yet barely gets any game time for Edinburgh?? Persisting with Kinghorn at 10…who , for all to see, is just plain terrible at it. I just don’t get it…can only think this is at GTs instruction.

        its also a laugh GT in the press saying how we need to better develop our national pool of players…when he can’t even select our best inform players and play them in their best position.

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    • Id say Edinburgh have a very good core group of players …but with half a squad and coaching staff ..dead wood.

  9. Can we please get rid of Mike Blair now to plan for future. He is a dead man standing. Embarrassing coaching and motivation of reasonable resources. Who next.

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  10. This article by Stuart Bathgate belies just how abysmal Edinburgh was. A shocking display by a team sporting so many internationals on the day. There are serious problems at this club, made only worse by Blair’s decision to step-down – not-to-step down. For the remainder of the games, Diamond should shed the ‘consultant’ title and establish himself as Interim Head Coach. Then, at least, the players would know who to salute and respond to.

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  11. Another shocker from Edinburgh. Almost exactly a year ago Edinburgh put 58 points past Connacht, today they put 41 points past us. What has happened – as the TV pundits said – and not for the first time, on paper this was a good Edinburgh side but they collectively fail to perform. Once again they had plenty possession and territory but failed to have any cutting edge. Probably the worst area is their defence where they conceded 6 tries a few of them far too easy. Basic missed tackles and near their own line Connacht only needed 2 pick and goes before forcing their way over whereas we would take about 8 attempts and still not score. Something seriously wrong here and Ive given up trying to analyse it any farther- I’ll leave that to the supposed experts (coaches). As a season ticket holder I am utterly bemused by this level of performance and then later i see Glasgow play stunningly at Munster. What a difference a god coach can make and well done to them.

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    • A similar post could have been written late season by a Warriors supporter and look at Glasgow now. In retrospect the Blair appointment was the wrong decision for both parties at the time. Edinburgh have the players to be much higher than 12th. For the good of Scottish rugby the right Head Coach and coaching team needs to be found.

      • As a Warriors fan – I can echo the comment above from last season and start of this one. I was really unsure regards Franco’s appointment, but the turnaround has been nothing short of incredible with largely the same squad. Most noticeable and important outcome being the performance of some of those perhaps unfairly labelled as second string players, none more so than big Stafford McDowall. But the season didn’t start like that! The EDI squad is sound, I have every faith that the right coaches will turn it round and am sure the search is well on. Scotland needs both teams performing.

        Re Mike Blair – a good man who didn’t want the job but was asked to step up to help sort a problem not of his own making. In doing the right thing to help, it could have damaged his career prospects at least in the short term. I wish him all the best.

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  12. Just not at the races at all.

    Any hope was extinguished by that intercept try just before HT. Sadly all too typical of our inability to manage a game since mid-last season.

    This must be the most under-achieving squad of players in pro rugby.

    And, as if to rub it in, Glasgow were a joy to watch. Of course, therein lies the hope that the current mess at DAM Health can be sorted out reasonably quickly; Healy will certainly help but we also need another top quality 9 even assuming Vellacott gets back to something like last season’s form.

  13. Totally great-but equally uplifting to see such a brilliant performance by Glasgow. At 31-0 after about 50 mins I really did think I was dreaming!

  14. Fairly dreadful stuff all round but particularly at half back. Given how many international caps were out there it was desperate stuff not helped by immediately seeing that first forty from Glasgow who look like they are playing a totally different sport to Edinburgh.

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    • Totally great-but equally uplifting to see such a brilliant performance by Glasgow. At 31-0 after about 50 mins I really did think I was dreaming!

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