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.
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).