@ BT Murrayfield
THE difference between the old and the new Edinburgh was showcased in this match, which saw Richard Cockerill’s side strengthen their position at the top of PRO14 Conference B.
After being 20-0 up at one point, the home team lost their way and came close to losing all of that lead as Connacht fought back to 20-14. A couple of years ago that lapse would have become a collapse and the game would have been lost.
Now, though, while far from the perfect article, Edinburgh are made of sterner stuff. They ended up with five tries – two of them penalty tries – in a match which saw five yellow cards despite being far from a blood bath.
“We had a poor spell for about 10 minutes either side of half-time,” head coach Cockerill said. “If you make mistakes and let teams into your 22, they’ll punish you.
“But I’m delighted with the win. I would have been happy with a 3-0 win, given the weather. To get a bonus point was pleasing and a little bit of a surprise, because Connacht are a good side.
“We won’t get too excited with where we are in the table. We’ll just look to keep a lid on things as much as we can and try to keep winning.
“There’s a good vibe around the club. To have that cushion over fourth place is good. It just frees you up a little bit. You’re going to have a bad day at the office at some point, but it’s nice to have the cushion to absorb that.”
Playing with a strong wind at their backs in the first half, Edinburgh had yet to get into their stride when an injury to Connacht’s Finlay Bealham caused a lengthy stoppage. The tighthead prop appeared to have hurt himself when a lineout broke down, and was stretchered off.
The home team took the lead with the first chance of the match, a 35-metre penalty which Simon Hickey did extremely well to steer between the posts. Yet while that kick was extremely accurate, others from hand by both sides verged on the aimless, or at best were designed to draw mistakes from the opposition rather than producing anything positive.
Hickey made it 6-0 with a longer penalty attempt as the midway point of the half approached, and although Connacht soon established their first promising platform of the game from a lineout inside the Edinburgh 22, the home defence soon snuffed the scoring opportunity out.
There had been little or no attacking ball in hand by either team up to that point, but Matt Scott soon changed that with a powerful solo run from midfield. Bursting through the first line of defence, the centre was caught up by a couple of defenders, but made his way over the line thanks to a combination of a clever dummy and the driving power of his legs.
From the naked eye it seemed like a clear try, but when referee Marius Mitrea referred it to the TMO, it appeared for a moment or two that it would be chalked off, perhaps because Connacht’s Jack Carty had got under the ball as Scott tried to ground. Whatever the stand-off did, it was deemed to have been a high tackle worthy of a yellow card, and Edinburgh were awarded a penalty try as the centre had been unable to touch down cleanly. It was the home centre’s last notable involvement of the match, as he soon went off for an HIA following a separate incident and did not reappear.
A kick ahead after a Connacht spill was just too strong to be caught in time as the home team tried to ram home their advantage, but the second try was only delayed rather than denied. A multi-phase attack crept closer and closer to the Connacht posts, and in the end Simon Berghan finished off, with Hickey converting.
A 20-0 lead looked like a comfortable cushion to take into the second half, but a Bill Mata spill from the restart first allowed the Irish province a good position from which to hit back immediately. From the scrum they were awarded three penalties in succession, and, deeming themselves to be on top in the set piece, opted to scrum each one. At the third time of asking, with the clock in the red, they forced their way over close to the posts. Tiernan O’Halloran was credited with the score, Carty added the two points, and that cushion was less reassuringly plump than it had been.
That much became all the clearer five minutes or so after the restart when the visitors claimed their second try, O’Halloran again finishing off from close range and Carty making it a seven-point score. Edinburgh had already had one let-off when a Nic Groom clearance was charged down and Damien Hoyland just won the race to touch down, and they knew they needed to do something drastic to change the momentum of the match.
John Barclay came on for Nick Haining, Edinburgh got the better of a scrum for the first time since the early stages of the game, and then a Connacht lineout was not straight. Those were no more than minor indications that the tide was turning, but then came a major sign when Pierre Schoeman got his team’s third try of the night at the end of a move that had started with the scrum from that squint lineout. Hickey converted.
That was enough to restore Edinburgh’s confidence, and with quarter of an hour to play they reclaimed their 20-point advantage. Building from a lineout on the left, they switched play after a few phases, and a long pass from Hickey found Duhan van der Merwe. The winger made a beeline for the tryline, and although John Porch did his best to wrest the ball from his grasp, the Edinburgh man just managed to touch down. Hickey continued his excellent form with the boot to take the score to 34-14, and although he blotted his copy book by slipping and miscuing a simple penalty effort minutes later, it did not matter.
Eroni Sau was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle on Tom Daly inside the final 10 minutes, and was followed into the bin by Haining – back on for Mata – and Eoghan Masterson after a scrap broke out, then by Conor Fitzgerald for a trip on Charlie Shiel. By the time of that last offence, Edinburgh had been awarded another penalty try, this time after a five-metre scrum had been dragged down by a despairing Connacht offence. A tricky match had been negotiated, another winning bonus point was in the bag, and that place in the play-offs had moved a little bit closer.
Edinburgh: D Hoyland, E Sau, M Bennett, M Scott (G Taylor 30), D van der Merwe; S Hickey (J van der Walt 73), N Groom (captain, C Shiel 66); P Schoeman (D Winning 74), M Willemse (C Fenton 66), S Berghan (M McCallum 66), S South (J Hodgson 74), L Carmichael, N Haining (J Barclay 54), L Crosbie, V Mata.
Connacht: T O’Halloran, N Adeolokun, K Godwin, P Robb, J Porch; J Carty (C Fitzgerald 55), K Marmion (C Blade 54); D Buckley, S Delahunt (J Murphy 55), F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 5), N Murray (E Masterson 50), J Maksymiw, P Boyle (E McKeon 63), C Fainga’a, J Butler (captain).
Referee: M Mitrea (Italy).
Edinburgh: Tries: penalty try 2, Berghan, Schoeman, Van der Merwe. Cons: Hickey 3. Pens: Hickey 2.
Connacht: Tries: O’Halloran 2. Cons: Carty 2.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 3-0, 6-0, 13-0, 18-0, 20-0, 20-5, 20-7 half-time, 20-12, 20-14, 25-14, 27-14, 32-14, 34-14, 41-14.
Yellow cards: Edinburgh: Sau 71, Haining 75. Connacht: Carty 26, Masterson 75, Fitzgerald 78.