Edinburgh v Wasps: pack power propels English club to narrow win

Wasps captain Joe Launchbury on the attack against Edinburgh. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

Edinburgh 30

Wasps 34

STUART BATHGATE @ The DAM Health Stadium

EDINBURGH’s dream of winning the Challenge Cup was brought crashing to earth by a powerful Wasps side who just did enough to get the better of this quarter-final. The English club were hanging on at the end after apparently having built an unassailable lead midway through the second half, but they just about merited the victory thanks to their superiority up front.

Mike Blair’s team, who had been unbeaten at their new home in competitive matches until last week’s URC defeat by Ulster, have now been defeated in their last two matches. A lengthy injury list is far from helpful at this stage of the season, but there is also a feeling that they are not quite ready to win matches in the most pressurised of circumstances against more battle-hardened opponents.

 “I thought we played some brilliant rugby at times,” Blair said. “We took our opportunities better than last week, although we probably still left a couple out there, and defended with a huge amount of heart. 

“But just a few things, like a couple of kick-offs that we lost where we had fought that momentum back – it was like bursting a balloon. Suddenly you’re up against it again, and that can have a big impact. So that was disappointing.

“I’ve such mixed emotions, similar to the Ulster game. I’m so proud of lots of the positive stuff we did, but we undid it with a couple of little brain farts or decisions that went against us.”

Blair accepted that some of the decisions against his team by referee Pierre Brousset were the right ones, but he insisted that others left him baffled – including a late call that should have seen a penalty awarded against Wasps forward Brad Shields.  “The penalty count was 14-7, which was disappointing because I thought some of the calls were right and I couldn’t understand a couple of the other calls,” the coach added. “I’m going to have to check the law book on a few to make sure I’m right before I say anything. 

“The crowd were outstanding and the stadium was absolutely buzzing again. The crowd were putting everything behind the team. But we did lose the game, and I want to be learning lessons while we’re winning games.”

Edinburgh’s backs got into their stride very early in a frantic first quarter, but their pack was totally outmuscled in the first scrum, conceding a penalty from which Jimmy Gopperth opened the scoring.  Wasps offended straight from the restart, however, and Emiliano Boffelli equalised from just under 30 metres.

The Pumas international then played a crucial role in the excellent try which gave Edinburgh the lead, popping up as the link man before providing the scoring pass for Ben Vellacott. The move began with a counter-attack initiated well inside his own half by Damian Hoyland and taken on by Chris Dean. Luke Crosbie and Adam McBurney carried on the attack down the right flank, then Boffelli jinked inside before finding the scrum-half. 

The winger converted to put his team seven points up, but the lead barely lasted a minute before Wasps hit back with a full score. The home defence did well to hold up an initial drive on their line begun by Sam Spink, but when the ball came back to Gopperth, the veteran centre found the space he needed to get over the line, then added the conversion.  

Things became a bit quieter for a time after that, but after 25 minutes the game was reignited when Grant Gilchrist charged down a free kick and Edinburgh sent a penalty to touch. Jamie Hodgson won clean ball, and a dynamic maul ended with Adam McBurney crossing over. Boffelli’s conversion made it 17-10.   

Wasps then laid siege to the Edinburgh line and had several chances to reduce their deficit with penalties from in front of the posts. They chose to scrum at first, and as Edinburgh offended again a penalty try seemed imminent. Blair shored up his pack by bringing on Pierre Schoeman, Wasps responded by kicking to touch rather than scrumming, and they were once more thwarted by the defence.  

Edinburgh stretched their lead to ten points with a Boffelli penalty minutes after the restart, but they quickly undid their good work by making a total guddle of the restart. Wasps claimed possession, got close to the line and were halting illegally, then after a tapped penalty Bi Alo crossed. Gopperth converted. 

The visitors kept up the pressure, and with half an hour to play drew level through another Gopperth penalty. Nearly ten minutes later, following a penalty to touch on the edge of the home 22, Tom West finished off from right on the line and Gopperth converted.

Right then it was hard to see how Edinburgh would get back into the game, but timely interventions by substitutes Henry Pyrgos hack ahead and Pierce Phillips chargedown had them believing again. They drew level with barely a dozen minutes left from a lineout on the edge of the Wasps 22, with Chris Dean providing the scoring pass to Magnus Bradbury and Boffelli converting. 

The crowd, already vociferous, redoubled their efforts to cheer their heroes home when Boffelli restored the lead with a penalty from the Wasps 10-metre line. But then Boyle was yellow-carded for collapsing a maul close to his own line, and after winning the lineout Wasps eventually scored through No 8 Alfie Barbeary.

Gopperth’s conversion still meant Edinburgh only needed an unconverted try to win the game,  and they had a chance to get it inside a frenetic final minute. They thought they had been awarded a penalty for a deliberate knock-on by Brad Shields, but in the end Wasps were given a scrum. The ball was quickly won back, and one long, last play followed,  but in the end Wasps succeeded in breaking the attack down to claim a place in the last four.

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Scorers – 

Edinburgh: Tries: Vellacott, McBurney, Bradbury. Cons: Boffelli 3. Pens: Boffelli 3.

Wasps: Tries: Gopperth, Alo, West, Barbeary. Cons: Gopperth 4. Pens: Gopperth 2.

Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-3, 3-3, 8-3, 10-3, 10-8, 10-10, 15-10, 17-10 half-time, 20-10, 20-15, 20-17, 20-20, 20-25, 20-27, 25-27, 27-27, 30-27, 30-32, 30-34.

Yellow card: Edinburgh: Boyle 75.

Edinburgh: J van der Walt; D Hoyland (J Blain 75), M Bennett, C Dean, E Boffelli; B Kinghorn, B Vellacott (H Pyrgos 62); H Courtney (P Schoeman 37), A McBurney (P Harrison 78), W Nel (L Atalifo 59), J Hodgson (P Phillips 59), G Gilchrist (captain), L Crosbie, C Boyle, M Bradbury (M Kunavula 78). 

Wasps: Z Kibirige (J Umaga 51), F Hougaard (P Odogwu 79), S Spink, J Gopperth, J Bassett; C Atkinson, D Robson (W Porter 74);  T West, G Oghre (D Frost 74), B Alo (E Millar-Mills 65), J Launchbury (captain, J Gaskell 76-77), E Stooke, B Shields, J Willis, A Barbeary.  

Referee: P Brousset (France).

Attendance: 6,431.





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About Stuart Bathgate 1237 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.


  1. On a positive note, Edinburgh are an extremely competitive team and have the ability to take games to the wire. On the downside, you need the killer instinct at this stage of the season and we’ve now lacked that 2 weeks in a row. The front row injuries have cost us and we now have to win a make or break game to get a champions cup spot. One thing, a big shout out to the drivers behind the new ground, I had 2 mates there for their first visit and they absolutely loved the experience.

  2. I don’t buy into some of the comments re physicality. Outwith the scrum, Edinburgh battered them silly at the breakdown throughout the first half. Credit to Wasps, they changed their tactics to a more set-piece approach in the second half and by holding their jumper in the air just a little longer, their line-out driving became better organised and a real handful to deal with. Edinburgh did not respond well enough, I thought they could have varied their defensive line-out better than they did.
    The injured props were a big miss but behind the scrum the backs especially Bennett were decent and two Wasps fans beside me in the Lothian Stand were very complimentary about Kinghorn especially his restarts which they described as hanging dangerously.

  3. Although playing Blair Kinghorn at 10 did not cost Edinburgh the game on Saturday an honest reappraisal of the success of this experiment should now be assessed. In my opinion he was one of the most prominent 15s in the Pro12/14 and his success has just been discarded without proper consideration to player’s qualities and abilities.
    Why is the question? Is Jaco van der Walt considered inadequate or inferior? Not in my opinion, I think answer lies within the psyche of Gregor Townsend who seems desperate to find a reason to discard Finn Russell. Mike Blair and Blair Kinghorn need to resist this pressure and play the player in his best position at full back!

  4. Really enjoyed the first half but the second was a frustrating watch thanks to a baffling performance by the referee. The lineout jumper needs to come straight down. Wasps milked three penalties from this. As for sealing off, offside and coming in at the side of a ruck it was a lottery which one side played better. The game was played at a pace dictated by the Wasps pack and certainly not the referee. Edinburgh, very obligingly went along with that, not possessing the wit to see they needed to disrupt. On a final moan. Blair Kinghorn is a very talented rugby player who can play a number of positions in the back line but his passing and especially his choice of pass is not good enough to play 10. He put his own team under pressure with some dubious choice and had the wrong boots on. It’s not fair on him.

  5. Mike Blair has done a great job with limited resources the style of play generally has improved enormously . Also every back has improved without exception Individually and as a team. When the forwards get dominance Edinburgh are a joy to watch. Now the must improve – the forwards with the exception of Shooooo and the younger players – have gone back or stayed the same. In ability to break gain line and exert control is the big issue – lack of pack power . While size is an issue- it’s not the only issue – many of the Irish sides and indeed Glasgow carry better with collective speed intensity and convert in red zone , They also defend assertively consistently . It suggests that we need a reset upfront for next season and beyond . Things to consider : new forwards coach , leaders in pack who adds real grit intensity and set example in carry and breakdown , front row additions . Nothing easy but the rewards are huge if we can improve sufficiently in this area . Oh and I agree with Mike Blair silly mistakes at restart cost us the match we lost momentum at crucial points – but you always felt that Wasps had pack power to come back . This was not a great Wasps side with more parity upfront we could have run them ragged as we have done to other sides this season .

  6. Just back from 2nd frustrating losses in a row. This was definitely a missed opportunity but again cant fault the effort. Its just a bit frustrating that we make some bad errors at key moments otherwise we might have won. This week it was kick off receipts where we failed on at least 2 occasions to secure the ball and both led directly to tries. The first Wasps try came from us knocking on and their last try came from us giving away a penalty straight from the kick-off. Despite our scrum being crushed early on and the maul being a struggle we did well to almost win the game. It all has to be remembered how many players we had missing particularly in the forwards.

    I see a comment about front 5 being underpowered although we do get Sam Skinner next season and considering that we have 4 0r 5 decent locks currently I think we are OK here but props are a challenge.

    • Sorry I think our front 5 with exception of shoo are simply not abrasive enough and lack the ability to really penetrate the gain line

  7. Previous comments all pretty negative, but I thought that was a performance that deserved the win especially when you consider our injury list

    As per MB, ref was AGAIN dodgy.. 2 times he let the SH by arranged before the ball was lifted, need to see the coverage to be certain. But how he could nor see the ball deliberately knocked forward at the end is beyond me.

    Harking back to my comments re Irish cheating last week, see Leinster v tigers 56.07 for a classic example. I’d like to see clear cheating penalised post match, a la citing.

    • Irish cheating and incompetent referees yet again eh?

      The spirit of rugby is truly alive here.

      • Is the spirit of rugby not to play by the rules (even if the ref can’t see)?

        That lack of care for the spirit is exactly what winds me up about the way the Irish play.

    • That’ll be why the likes of Leinster win all the trophies they do. By cheating. Maybe your boys should try it.

  8. Edinburgh have a surplus of really good back rowers our problem is the front 5 – after Nel retires in 10 years – won’t he go on forever? There’s no-one of the same standard -same for Scotland and we don’t have the really powerful gnarly locks – the backs look good but need to be more precise and confident which will come in time. Time for a really good look for additional options at 1, 3, 4 and 5 – oh for a Hamilton or even a Murray.

    • Sam Skinner will be arriving next season, with Glen Young, Marshall Sykes and Jamie Hodgson all still reasonably young. The Second Row position looks well accounted for.

      Tighthead is a trickier one. Perhaps we should Take Fagerson off a poor Warriors side? No point wasting him there.

      • Agree with much of the above, we were overpowered which was no surprise given the number of absentees n the starting line up. Unfortunately there’s no obvious Scottish solution, the national team face the same struggle. This may be one of those problems that needs an overseas solution which won’t be popular with some posters but needs must. Gilchrist has put a lot of miles on the clock this season and got through a pile of work again. With some promising young support coming through, we might yet find we have a solution. Tighthead more worrying, We have been lucky to have WP over the last decade there has not been many better 3s anywhere. I get the logic re Fagerson but to paraphrase Robert Duvall, ‘Zander don’t scrum’, so again maybe the solution lies overseas so they will be around through the six nations too.

  9. A mixed bag leaving me ultimately frustrated. We play exciting adventurous open play perhaps high risk at times but compelling when we execute well but we intersperse with missed restarts or poor kicks and essentially struggle against the big bully boys. Scrum was mashed but we did learn to get magnus off n running asap. Maul was mashed and didn’t really cope. The frustration is I thought we still could have won and perhaps the lack of a score in possession in their 22 at the end showed a lack of grunt and composure in the killing zone.One that got away, as our exciting endeavour maybe deserved more.

  10. Typical Edinburgh performance (been watching throughout the professional era and before) some thrilling rugby but simply cannot make so many unforced errors and expect to win a semi final. Some quite superb defence at the end of the 2nd half (Crosbie put in 3 or 4 dominant tackles) looked promising but alas not enough top vans players available. Really leathered at the maul, scrum really struggled Schoeman came on and made a real difference (more just reputation rather than hoe he played – I thought he looked tired). Guys cannot be questioned re effort but……………

    • 6, 7, 8 of the Scottish boys laying today won’t be touring with Scotland in the summer (likely lion less touring party) which shows the quality available.
      Unlucky that DeBruin, Venter, McInally, Cherry injured but the fact we did very well to stay in touch despite being physically dominated tells its own story.
      Jones Hastings VDM Gray Sutherland have all left Scotland / SRU in last wee while

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