Edinburgh kick off Challenge Cup campaign with bonus-point win

John Hardie. Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson

London Irish 14

Edinburgh 37

STUART BATHGATE @ The Madejski Stadium

IT WAS harder work than that scoreline might suggest, but Edinburgh got there in the end to kick off their Challenge Cup campaign with a morale-boosting bonus-point win. First-half tries from Damien Hoyland and Junior Rasolea (with two) gave the visitors the advantage at the break, and although they took frustratingly long to put the game to bed, they added two more late in the second half through Jamie Ritchie and Luke Crosbie to go to the top of Pool 4.

They are ahead of Krasny Yar on points differential only after the Russians beat Stade Francais 34-29 at home, so Saturday’s match in Moscow next weekend has taken on added significance. There were still errors aplenty in Edinburgh’s performance, but the key thing for Richard Cockerill was that his team found a way to win against opponents who, although understrength, put up a decent fight right up until the closing minutes of the contest.

“They put a young side out, we had a bit of experience, and if you look at the two squads you’d think that we should probably win,” the Edinburgh coach said. “I think the score flattered us a little bit, and to be fair to Irish I thought it was a very combative and competitive game.”

“To come away from home and get a better performance ball in hand was important. I was disappointed last week how we played against Zebre, and I thought we were much better today, certainly in the first half – three tries that were all well constructed. If we had been a little more accurate and a bit more ambitious at times we could probably have got a little bit more than that.”

Edinburgh began the game in enterprising style, and should have taken the lead after three minutes only for Jason Tovey to send his 30-metre penalty wide of the right post. Irish stand-off Theo Brophy Clews, by contrast, made no mistake when presented with a similar chance, calmly curling his right-footed kick between the uprights to give the home team a 10th-minute lead.

After beginning sluggishly, Irish pressed forward more confidently for a time, leaving a lot of space at the back which Edinburgh could have exploited had their kicking from hand been more accurate. Cockerill’s side were also in too much of a hurry when they attacked ball in hand in the first quarter, but they then got things right with a two-try scoring burst just after the midway point of the half.

Damien Hoyland was the first Scot on the score sheet, breaking free of one tackler then having the strength to withstand a second long enough to stretch out for the line. That try came about after good initial work from Stuart McInally among others, and the hooker and his front-row colleague Simon Berghan had similar roles to play in the build-up to the second too, helping create an overlap which eventually allowed Chris Dean to put his fellow-centre Rasolea in on the left.

Irish got back into the game after half an hour, with tighthead prop Ollie Hoskins managing to barge his way over the line after a powerful series of drives from the pack. But Edinburgh soon regained the whip hand, and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne was on target with a penalty before Rasolea claimed his own second try and his team’s third, racing down the right wing then cutting inside to evade the cover defence.

Another penalty from stand-off Brophy Clews gave the English Premiership side the last word before the break, but a bonus-point win appeared to be within Edinburgh’s grasp as long as they kept their composure. Dougie Fife was within metres of claiming the fourth try a few minutes after the restart only to be denied by a last-ditch tackle, and then Brophy Clews was wide with a very kickable penalty that would have taken his team back to within a score.

Darryl Marfo and Willen Mel came on in the front row to give Edinburgh some renewed impetus, but it was Irish who took on a new lease of life after some 50 minutes, and a fine break by winger Joe Cokanasiga ended with a penalty which Brophy Clews this time sent between the posts. Hidalgo-Clyne soon replied in kind, however, to restore the lead to nine points.

Edinburgh then went on the offensive, and had ample possession from which they should have been able to create a fourth try only to be denied by opponents who remained sure they could steal something from the game. That confidence evaporated in the closing minutes, however, when flanker Conor Gilsenan was yellow-carded for an offence in the ruck deep inside his own 22, and Edinburgh made full use of having an extra man to run in two late tries.

Ritchie was first, finishing off from close quarters after spadework from his fellow-forwards. Hidalgo-Clyne converted that bonus-point try, and added two more points with the last kick of the game after Crosbie got his first score in Edinburgh colours. Receiving a pass on the edge of the opposition 22, the substitute worked  his way out of a tired tackle and then had the legs to make it the rest of the way to the line.

Teams –

London Irish: B Ransom; J Cokanasiga, T Fowlie, J Williams, T Ojo (B Loader 73); T Brophy Clews (J Atkins 77), B Meehan (S Steele 54); H Elrington (T Smallbone 62), T Woolstencroft (T Gleave 54), O Hoskins (L Chawatama 62), W Lloyd (J Cooke 72), J McNally, M Northcote-Green, C Gilsenan, L Lomidze (I Curtis-Harris 54).

Edinburgh: G Bryce; D Fife, C Dean, J Rasolea (T Brown 79), D Hoyland (J Harries 66); J Tovey (N Fowles 73), S Hidalgo-Clyne; A Dell (D Marfo 49), S McInally (N Cochrane 62), S Berghan (W Nel 52), F McKenzie (G Gilchrist 57), B Toolis, J Ritchie, J Hardie (L Crosbie 66), C du Preez.

Scorers –

London Irish: Try: Hopkins. Pens: Brophy Clews 3.

Edinburgh: Tries: Hoyland, Rasolea 2, Ritchie, Crosbie; Cons: Tovey, Hidalgo-Clyne 2; Pens: Hidalgo-Clyne 2.

Scoring sequence: 3-0, 3-5, 3-7, 3-12, 8-12, 8-15, 8-20, 11-20 half-time, 14-20, 14-23, 14-28, 14-30, 14-35, 14-37.

Yellow card: Gilsenan (London Irish) 76.

Referee: D Jones (Wales).

Attendance: 4,099.

About Stuart Bathgate 1363 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.