DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
WITH 17 leading players either away on international duty or injured, this was always going to be a tough mission for Richard Cockerill’s makeshift side, but the ease with which they coughed up points and possession to finish a distant second despite scoring four tries of their own will be a source of serious frustration to the capital outfit. It will also be a cause for significant concern given that it means they have now lost six games on the bounce, and face a daunting trip to Llanelli to take on Scarlets next Sunday night.
“We did some good things and we scored some nice tries, but we were a little bit easy to score against,” said Cockerill afterwards, clearly keen to keep his analysis optimistic. “That’s not like us. They kicked behind us and got some joy from it, which is very disappointing.
“Three tries from kicks,” he continued. “We need to be in better positions to read that. It’s a bit raw at the moment but if teams put the ball in behind us, we have to cover those options.
“There were some good parts as well. We are falling the wrong side of the scoreboard too often in the last four or five weeks and we need to stem that as quickly as possible.
“We have to keep working at our game. There’s no magic potion. Last season these games fell our way but this season we don’t seem able to put enough quality in our game to win games.”
“We are missing a lot of guys, WP Nel had to come off from orders from the national team,” he added, which hints at a degree of frustration at how his already stretched squad is being managed to suit the national cause.
One silver-lining is that a couple of youngsters got game time here, which will be a valuable step in their development. Last season’s Scotland Under-20s winger Jack Blain, who was making his second competitive appearance for the club playing in the unusual position of full-back, had some promising interventions with the ball in hand but a tough time dealing with Connacht’s clever kicking game. Flanker Connor Boyle, another recent Under-20s star, came off the bench for his first taste of pro rugby during the final 15 minutes.
“Those guys train with us all the time,” said Cockerill. “But young guys make more mistakes than experienced guys, that’s just the nature of it. We’ll get the benefit as time goes on.
“We have to keep working hard. Sometimes you have to show a bit of character. Before this we won six on the trot. We have to get better, simple as that. But no excuses. We should be more difficult to play against than we were tonight.”
Connacht drew first blood on three minutes when Conor Fitzgerald sent home a penalty which had been awarded against Edinburgh second-row Andrew Davidson for not rolling away.
Edinburgh bounced back to take the lead when Nic Groom burrowed over from close range following some good driving play from Pierre Schoeman and Nel, but their scoreboard advantage was short-lived because just four minutes later an excellent individualist score from Caolin Blade lit up the match. The scrum-half reacted superbly when he received scrappy possession from a line-out maul, sensing an opportunity down the short-side which he fully capitalised on by sending a perfect grubber past the last man, which he then chased down himself on his way to the line.
Not to be outdone, Fitzgerald got in on the act when he prodded an equally clever kick in behind Edinburgh’s defence for winger Sam Arnold to swoop in for the score.
Then a third fine try inside a 15-minute window stretched Connacht’s lead to 16 points, when slick hands from an overthrown line-out released full-back John Porch on the left touchline, who accelerated past an out of position Eroni Sau before sending Alex Wootton home.
It looked like Edinburgh had grabbed a lifeline when a clever set-move from a line-out saw Sau scamper under the posts off an inside pass from James Johnstone, but the TMO was consulted and the replay made it clear that Chris Dean’s dummy-run had obstructed a Connacht tackler.
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To compound Edinburgh’s misery, an absent-minded offside in the middle of the park a few minutes later allowed Tom Daly to kick another three points for the visitors, which made it 7-23 with just under half an hour played.
Two tries from line-out drives by Edinburgh hooker Mike Willemse either side of half-time – the first being converted by Jaco van der Walt – pulled it back to a four point game, but the hosts couldn’t build on this momentum, and when Blade once again showed excellent awareness at the back of a maul to prod another grubber forward which Wootton latched onto for his second try of the evening, the bonus point was secured for the visitors.
Connacht surged even further ahead just after the hour mark when hooker Shane Delahunt galloped through a yawning gap in Edinburgh’s day-dreaming defensive line, then finished off the move off himself with another powerful surge a few phases later.
The only tangible consolation for Edinburgh from this match was the four-try bonus-point they picked up with eight minutes to go when Andrew Davidson – arguably the home team’s most belligerent member – battered his way across the line. That puts them a single point ahead of Benetton at the foot of the PRO14’s Conference B.
Edinburgh: J Blain; E Sau, J Johnstone, C Dean (G Taylor 65), J Farndale; J van der Walt, N Groom (H Pyrgos 66); P Schoeman (J Bhatti 72), M Willemse (D Cherry 74), W Nel (M McCallum 66), L Carmichael (J Hodgson 72), A Davidson, M Bradbury, A Miller (C Boyle 65), M Kunavula.
Connacht: J Porch; S Arnold ( T O’Halloran 22), T Farrell, T Daly, A Wootton; C Fitzgerald, C Blade (C Reilly 73); D Buckley (P McAllister 63), S Delahunt (J Murphy 69), J Aungier (P McAllister 63), E Masterson, G Thornbury (C Prendergast 73), P Boyle, J Butler (captain), A Papali’i (C Oliver 63).
Referee: A Jones (Wales)
Edinburgh: Tries: Groom, Willemse 2, Davidson; Cons: Van der Walt 3.
Connacht: Tries: Blade, Arnold, Wootton 2, Delahunt; Con: Daly 3; Pen: Fitzgerald, Daly.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-3; 5-3; 7-3; 7-8; 7-10; 7-15; 7-20; 7-23; 12-23; 14-23 (h-t) 19-23; 19-28; 19-30; 19-35; 19-37; 24-37; 26-37.