EDINBURGH got exactly what they deserved out of last night’s Guinness PRO14 semi-final clash against Ulster, according to head coach Richard Cockerill. His team had a commanding 19-7 lead with 20 minutes to go, but then found themselves incapable of keeping control of the match and ended up slumping to a painful 19-22 defeat.
The decisive points came via a brilliant, long-range Iain Madigan penalty, after Edinburgh’s replacement hooker Mike Willemse was adjudged to have committed a deliberate knock-on, but the real damage had been done before that through the home team’s inability to clear their lines, to hold onto the ball in contact, and to – generally – play the percentages.
“I think we lost the penalty count 14-9, plus we didn’t exit properly, we kicked poorly and gave them opportunities to carry back at us, and we were ill-disciplined at the tackle by not rolling away,” said Cockerill. “We invited them into our own half and we got what we deserved and they got what they deserved. We can solve all those things. In these games it is the little things that make the difference and some of our players clearly don’t understand what that looks like.
“I’ve no complaints about the [late] penalty – none at all,” he added. “I am disappointed that when we are 19-7 up, we don’t control the game like we know we can control the game. Credit to them but that was all of our own making. We should have made better decisions and we should have executed better and it just wasn’t good enough from us.”
This was the fourth knock-out match on the bounce that Edinburgh have lost since Cockerill’s arrival at the club in the summer of 2017, and probably the most painful yet because on paper they looked the better team and there was a feeling pre-match that they have finally got over the jitters which have haunted them so often in the past.
It is not back to the drawing-board after this set-back, but the reversal should give several senior players pause for reflection.
“We’ve got international players who will go and play Test matches for Scotland and they need to know better,” said Cockerill. “We’ve had enough opportunities to learn and tonight we had to deliver, and we didn’t. It’s not good enough.
“They are good players and they played really good rugby to get into a winning position, but we have to stay engaged the whole time. We score then we don’t collect the kick-off and we end up getting penalised, and they score from the line-out. We need to have a good hard look at ourselves because it is a continual problem.
“We just don’t need to be forcing a game that doesn’t need to be chased. Chris Dean spoons the ball down the field and they end up scoring from the next play. We have to make good decisions there – let’s have a scrum because we were on top in that area. That’s just an example and there was lots of examples of poor decision-making.”
The Edinburgh squad will now have a few days off to lick their wounds, but Cockerill has warned them that they will be back at training by the middle of next week, when preparation will start in earnest for a shot at partial redemption against Bordeaux-Begles in the quarter-final of the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals on 19th September.
“That’s no consolation because we should be taking the opportunity here,” insisted Cockerill, who was in no mood to downplay the magnitude of the set-back. “I’m not going to make any excuses for myself because it is my fault, it starts with me, and the players are going to be held accountable next week.
“We’re not going to change 45 players, they’ll only change the coach, we just have to dust ourselves off – we’ve got a couple of weeks prep to go to Bordeaux so we just need to get better with the players we’ve got.”
Meanwhile, opposite number Dan McFarland praised match-winner Ian Madigan who came off the bench in the final minutes and slotted the decisive long-range penalty.
“That was big-time, he is a big-time player,” said the former Scotland assistant coach. “We had plenty of opportunities to create pressure in the first half but it didn’t quite work, then we made some adjustments in the second half and it paid off.
“Nobody is going to give us a chance against Leinster, but we’ll prepare properly, we’ll have a game-plan we think can work and we’ll go and give it our best shot.”