STUART BATHGATE @ Hive Stadium
FOR as long as Edinburgh had their most experienced line-up on the field – in other words, for the first half – all went well. They conceded the first score in this pre-season friendly, but got on top of Connacht and ran in three more of their own to lead 19-7 at the break.
But after the home side had made wholesale changes, bringing on a youthful and largely inexperienced group, they lost cohesion – and with it the match. In the end the visitors won comfortably, taking control within minutes of the restart and finishing with a seven-tries-to-three result.
Given that Connacht had already played two warm-up games, it was understandable that at times they should look that little bit more sharper than their opponents. And given they only have three players away at the World Cup compared to Edinburgh’s 15, this result should perhaps not come as too much of a surprise.
It certainly did not appear to have dispirited Sean Everitt, who might have hoped for a more positive outcome from his first match as senior coach but nonetheless found it easy to discern some positive aspects of the evening.
“The first 40 was good,” he said. “I thought the guys were really physical and abrasive in the tackle, and I think there has been a remarkable improvement in our defence. And when we had opportunities in attack we grabbed them with both hands.
“You’re always going to be under pressure when you make all these changes in the second half. But we had to give everyone an opportunity to see what they’ve got, and some of the youngsters put their hands up in the second half.
“It was the first full-contact hit-out tonight and it was always going to be tough for our boys against a team that is a bit ahead on preparation. We had a lot of young boys out there today and I’m sure they’ll take the lessons from it.”
After pressing right from kick-off, the visitors eventually opened their account when lock forward Joe Joyce finished off from close range. JJ Hanrahan scored the first f his five conversions – he would only miss the last two.
Edinburgh had hardly got out of their own half in those opening 10 minutes, and when they got close to the Connacht 22 for the first time, the superior sharpness of the defence snuffed the move out. They fared a lot better in their next attack, however, when, after an attack seesawed from left to right then back again, hooker Adam McBurney scored by the left corner flag.
The conversion attempt was unsuccessful to leave Edinburgh two points behind, but that changed midway through the half when winger Wes Goosen came into midfield and raced through to collect a short ball and touch down by the posts. Cammy Scott made no mistake this time to put his team 12-7 ahead.
Minutes later, Scott helped the lead go from five to 12 points. He collected from a breakdown, fooled the nearest defender with a dummy and then put captain Mark Bennett through the ensuing gap to run in his team’s third try from about 40 metres out. Scott added the conversion.
Connacht had a couple of chances to cut the deficit late in the half, but at first they were denied by a combination of solid defending and a misfiring lineout. Then, in time added on, they got the ball down only for referee Ian Kenny to chalk the score off for an Edinburgh penalty for hands in the ruck.
In the second half, with that new home line-up having come on, Connacht scored within a minute. David Hawkshaw kicked through to the left corner, and Andrew Smith first won the race to the line, and then had the presence of mind to wait patiently for the bounce to work in his favour before touching down. Hanrahan’s conversion made it 19-14.
Minutes later, after a long arm-wrestle on the Edinburgh line that involved at least 20 bodies, Jordan Duggan touched down to equalise. Hanrahan added two more points and his team had their noses in front again.
When centre Tom Farrell scored close to the right corner and Hanrahan once more converted, there were still 25 minutes to play. But it already looked like the game had taken a decisive turn, with Edinburgh’s less experienced new line-up finding it hard to match their opponents for cohesion.
With quarter of an hour to go, Shamus Hurley-Langton got his team’s fifth try from close range after they had run a penalty from five metres out. Hanrahan kept up his 100 per cent record to put his team 35-19 ahead.
Charlie Savala was sent to the sinbin inside the last 10 minutes as the referee lost patience with Edinburgh’s repeated offending. Any lingering hopes of a home fightback left the pitch with him.
Hawkshaw and Shayne Bolton added tries six and seven in the dying minutes.
Edinburgh: N Sweeney; R McCann, M Bennett (captain), M Currie, W Goosen; C Scott, C Shiel; B Venter, A McBurney, A Williams, G Young, J Hodgson, T Dodd, C Boyle, C Neild. Replacements: P Harrison, R Hislop, M Jones, R Bratton, C Miller, E McVie, A Scopes, L McConnell, Freddie Douglas, T Currie, S Steele, C Savala, J Edmunds, C Dean, M Davidson, Finn Douglas, L Richman.
Connacht: J Porch; S Bolton, T Farrell, C Forde, A Smith; J Hanrahan, C Reilly; D Buckley, D Heffernan, J Aungier, D Murray, J Joyce, S Hurley-Langton, C Oliver (captain), P Boyle. Replacements: D Tierney-Martin, J Duggan, D Robertson-McCoy, O Dowling, N Murray, M McDonald, D Hawkshaw, S O’Brien, B Ralston, L McNamara.
Edinburgh: Tries: McBurney, Goosen, Bennett. Cons: Scott 2.
Connacht: Tries: Joyce, Smith, Duggan, Farrell, Hurley-Langton, Hawkshaw, Bolton. Cons: Hanrahan 5.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-5, 0-7, 5-7, 10-7, 12-7, 17-7, 19-7 half-time, 19-12, 19-14, 19-19, 19-21, 19-26, 19-28, 19-33, 19-35, 19-40, 19-45.
Yellow card: Edinburgh: Savala 72.
Referee: Ian Kenny.