Edinburgh v La Rochelle: costly lapse leaves Cockerill’s men with mountain to climb

Head coach insists Champions Cup campaign is still alive and kicking despite opening weekend loss

Edinburgh duo Duhan van der Merwe and Jaco van der Walt try in vain to halt La Rochelle's Jérémy Sinzelle as he scores his team's second try. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Edinburgh duo Duhan van der Merwe and Jaco van der Walt try in vain to halt La Rochelle's Jérémy Sinzelle as he scores his team's second try. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

Edinburgh 8

La Rochelle 13

DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield

ON the balance of play, Edinburgh did well to limit this to a five-point game – meaning they picked up a losing bonus point which might be important in the final shakedown of this European Champions Cup pool stage – but Richard Cockerill’s side will also be frustrated that having defended so well for so much of this contest, a collective lapse in concentration at the start of the second half gifted La Rochelle the try which ultimately proved to be the difference between the two sides.

On such fine margins do matches – and indeed whole campaigns – swing at this level. Edinburgh were up against the top team in France at the moment, so there was never going to be much room for error.

“It was tough, they’re a good side and they put us under a lot of pressure,” conceded Cockerill afterwards. “We didn’t control field position very well in that first half and we let them play on top of us a little bit, but we were in the game and we were there at the death trying to win it, so credit to the players.

“It was tiny margins in that second half, we don’t gather one high ball and it bounces the other way, and you end up giving them points which is the difference at the end,” he added.

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“I’m not going to complain about the result. We could have done better, we could have been in there for a draw or even a win at the end, but we weren’t quite good enough.”

The truncated format of this year’s Champions Cup means that a home loss on the opening weekend of the campaign leaves Edinburgh in the lap of the gods to make it into the quarter-finals – but Cockerill is not ready to give up the ghost quite yet.

“We’re a good side and we can compete at this level,” he reasoned. “We’re not giving this away. We’re going to pick our best team for next week and we’re going to go to Sale and try and win.

“It’s not all over tonight, we get a point and there’s still lots to play for. There’s still this competition there’s still the Challenge Cup to drop in to.

“We’re not all lost, we’ve got to keep working hard and we’ve just got to get better.”

Ominous start

It got off to ominous start for Edinburgh when they were overpowered in the middle of the park in the second minute and La Rochelle swept up field, leading to Chris Dean being forced to carry over his own line – but the home side then produced a massive scrum on their own five-yard line to secure a turnover which diffused the danger.

The game soon settled into a routine which involved La Rochelle knocking on the door and Edinburgh resolutely refusing to open up.

The visitors did manage to get themselves in front on 12 minutes when Viliame Mata found himself caught over the ball after tackling Gregory Alldritt on halfway, creating the opportunity for Jules Plisson to fire home a long-range penalty, but La Rochelle were then frustrated at nearly every turn as they tried in vain to turn pressure into points.

Blair Kinghorn did brilliantly to collect a high ball under pressure but then threw a crazy offload to no-one in particular. La Rochelle winger Raymond Rhule was first to react, and it looked like he had sent Geoffrey Doumayrou over, but Mata appeared from nowhere to make the vital intervention. There was a suggestion that the Fijian No8 had tackled his man early, but a long hard look at the evidence convinced referee Luke Pearce that there wasn’t a case to answer.

A few minutes later, man-of-the-match Will Skelton offloaded out of contact to send La Rochelle scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow scurrying down the left touchline, only to be bundled into the corner flag before getting the ball down by a brilliant cover tackle from Stuart McInally.

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Eventually, however, all that pressure paid off for the visitors, when some slick hands and clever running lines released Rhule on the right, and this time there was no stopping the Ghanian-born South African internationalist.

With just under 35-minutes played, Edinburgh finally managed to establish some field position, and Jaco van der Walt got them off the mark with an offside penalty from right in front of the posts.

Plisson then had another penalty from halfway just before the break, after a deliberate knock-on from Mata, but this time he got under his kick and it didn’t ever look like having the legs.

It had been a tough old 40 minutes for Cockerill’s men, but they had done well to stay in the fight – which made what happened in the second minute of the second half all the more disappointing.

Costly calamity

Henry Pyrgos completely misread a high ball, then Mark Bennett failed to tidy up, and three more defenders were too easily brushed aside by La Rochelle full-back Jeremy Sinzelle as he swooped for the line.

To their credit, Edinburgh bounced back to score a well-worked try by Kinghorn, from a neat grubber into the in-goal area from Dean – but van der Walt missed the easy conversion, and that’s as close as it got.

Replacement stand-off Ihaia West had an opportunity to open up some breathing space for La Rochelle but his penalty from wide on the right sailed harmlessly clear of the left post.

And with about five minutes to go, Edinburgh managed to get back on the front foot, but a Hamish Watson knock-on, followed by a scrum penalty conceded, scuppered that late push for glory.

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Teams –

Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Graham, M Bennett C Dean (J Johnstone 72), D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos (N Groom 66); P Schoeman (R Sutherland 61), S McInally (M Willemse 63), W Nel (S Berghan 56), B Toolis, A Davidson (A Ferreira 68), J Ritchie, H Watson, V Mata (M Bradbury 56).

La Rochelle: J Sinzelle; D Leyds, G Doumayrou, L Botia, R Rhule (M Alonso-Munoz.71); J Plisson (I West, 40), T Kerr-Barlow;  R Wardi, P Bourgarit (F Bosch 56), U Atonio (A Joly 63), T Lavault, W Skelton (M Tanguy 56), W Liebenberg, K Gourdon, G Alldritt (R Bourdeau 70).


Referee: Luke Pearce (England).


Scorers –

Edinburgh: Try: Kinghorn; Pen: van der Walt

La Rochelle: Tries: Rhule, Sinzelle; Pen: Plisson.

Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-3; 0-8; 3-8 (h-t) 3-13; 8-13.

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About David Barnes 3912 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. At least Edinburgh never gave up unlike Glasgow who were truly woeful. Give cockers his due – his sides really keep on Fighting though Edinburgh desperately need another centre and a creative no. 9 – move Jones and George Horne to Edinburgh as they seem to be ignored at Glasgow?

  2. Edinburgh these days always gives the impression that the backs have never met one another before. I know kicking the leather off the ball is all the rage this year, but surely they must work on strike plays of some kind during the week? A basic wraparound between the nine and ten? Actually looking to get the ball to our world-class wingers? So frustrating to watch.

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