STUART BATHGATE @ BT Murrayfield
EDINBURGH had to fight every inch of the way and every minute of the 80, but in the end they got there, claiming the result that takes them into the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup for just the third time in history. They go through as winners of Pool Five, and as a bonus have ensured that Glasgow Warriors will also be in the last eight whatever happens in their game against Saracens today, as even if they lose their points total is now enough to ensure they will be one of the three best runners-up from the five pools.
Montpellier needed to win to keep their European dream alive, and when they went 10-9 ahead with the first score of the second half after having been 9-0 down their hopes were high of recording a rare victory on the road in the competition. But, after a long lull in which Edinburgh seemed to have lost their focus and their energy, they fought back with a fourth successful penalty of the game from Jaco van der Walt and then a try from Darcy Graham.
There was still a lot to do after that to close out the contest, but Richard Cockerill’s team did it magnificently. One downside of the night was the first-half injury which ended Hamish Watson’s participation, and although the openside was able to watch from the sidelines, it remains to be seen whether he will be fit for the start of the Six Nations.
There were few scoring opportunities for either side in a closely fought first half, but Edinburgh had the better of things and opened the scoring after 12 minutes through a straightforward penalty from Jaco van der Walt – and less than five minutes later the stand-off doubled his team’s lead from a similar position. They had had one long-range possibility earlier, but opted to go for touch and their lineout drive came to nothing.
Montpellier came close to scoring with a lineout drive of their own after 25 minutes, but Nico van Rensburg was halted just short then Louis Picamoles spilled forward.
Watson went off injured just before the half-hour and was replaced by Luke Crosbie, then Van der Walt was just off target with another penalty attempt from more than 40 metres. However, the No 10 made no mistake a few minutes later from a little further in, making it 9-0.
Montpellier became more threatening towards the end of the half, and they scored in the final minute to throw the match back into the melting pot. Ruan Pienaar took the defence unawares with a quick tap penalty when a kick for goal looked the more probable option, and then Jacques du Plessis – who might well have seen yellow for an earlier high tackle on Willem Nel – finished the move off. Pienaar converted to make it 9-7 at the break.
History within their grasp
Hugely encouraged by that score, the French club began the second half on top, and took the lead through a Pienaar penalty after Grant Gilchrist was offside at a maul. After half an hour of slowly losing their grip on the game, Edinburgh needed a momentum swing, and they got a minor one when Bill Mata won a penalty at the breakdown to end a Montpellier attack. They made good ground both with the kick to touch and a subsequent break by the ever-dangerous Duhan van der Merwe, but the defence turned the ball over to snuff the threat of a score.
All the same, that passage of play was enough to remind Edinburgh that they had the resources to get back on top. They were soon back on the attack, and with 25 minutes left, a fourth successful kick of the evening from Van der Walt restored their lead.
Minutes later, Blair Kinghorn kicked another penalty to touch to set up a lineout drive that was illegally halted a metre out. With several phases coming and going and the defence holding firm, it looked like the home team would have to make do with another three points. Eventually, though, they found a bit of impetus, and with Montpellier on the back foot, a swift pass out of the ruck to Darcy Graham saw the winger dive over in the right corner. Van der Walt converted from the touchline to take the lead back out to nine.
There was still a lot of fight left in Montpellier, and Edinburgh had to work extremely hard to keep them at bay as the match went into its final 10 minutes. Their labours might just have proved in vain if Johan Goosen had managed to hold on to the ball when he intercepted a Van der Walt pass on his own 10-metre line, but he spilled forward. There were further chances for Montpellier, and further errors from them, as Edinburgh held firm to round off what has been a remarkable campaign thus far. We now have to wait until the final weekend in March to find out if they can take it one stage further and reach the semi-finals.
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn; Darcy Graham, James Johnstone, Chris Dean, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco Van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos; Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally (captain), Willem Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Bill Mata. Substitutes: David Cherry, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Fraser McKenzie, Luke Crosbie, Nathan Fowles, Simon Hickey, Juan Pablo Socino.
Montpellier: F Steyn; T Nagusa, A Vincent, J Serfontein, H Immelman; J Goosen, R Pienaar; G Fichten, B du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, N van Rensburg, Jacques du Plessis, F Ouedraogo, Y Camara, L Picamoles. Substitutes: V Giudicelli, U Tcheisvhili, L Chilachava, K Galletier, Y Reilhac, B Paillaugue, V Martin, P Willemse.
Edinburgh: Try: Graham. Con: Van der Walt. Pens: Van der Walt 4.
Montpellier: Triy: J du Plessis. Con: Pienaar. Pen: Pienaar.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 3-0; 6-0; 9-0; 9-5; 9-7 (h-t) 9-10; 12-10; 17-10; 19-10.
Referee: JP Doyle (England).