If the Racing Metro match was “The Slap That Was Immense” (to quote Google Translate), then perhaps this was The Slap Heard Round Europe. Toulouse came not to play the Scots out of the tournament with flair, but with muscle. Edinburgh – to the surprise of everyone except possibly themselves – stood up to them with a phenomenally committed second half performance that sent a record crowd of 38,887 into delirium.
Speaking afterwards, Edinburgh’s coach Michael Bradley spoke of the belief that previous performances had given Edinburgh: “We’ve played a lot of good rugby in this competition and under pressure we’ve been able to deliver in critical moments in matches in the pool stages. And I think we’ve rode our luck a bit, and today was another day similar to that and we were on the right side of the result.”
And what a result: the first Scottish side to reach the semi-final of the Heineken Cup. Edinburgh will play against Ulster in Dublin on Saturday 28th April.
Great as the day was and the result was, there was a period in the first half (following Edinburgh’s try) where they were being smothered by Toulouse. Trepidation was building as the Frenchmen looked like they were starting to make headway in the match.
Disciplinary errors of the brain from Jacobsen and to a lesser extent Rennie near his own line meant two silly yellow cards and an invitation to Matanovou to waltz through for a stunning individual try not long after must have induced cringes from Edinburgh fans and coaches alike. Bradley was more or less in agreement.
“Going down to 13 men was not wise. You could lose a game quite comfortably if you’re down to 13 men for ten minutes.
“We could easily have lost that game in those 10 minutes.”
Bradley referred back to the Scarlets game last weekend when Edinburgh had struggled to dominate the Welsh region despite a similar 2 man advantage, and how that had come up in training – how to mitigate the effect of such a problem.
So it was that it became not a typical self-destructive Scottish performance but a damage limitation exercise as Laidlaw stepped up and dropped the goal to recover some points during what could have been a very dark period of the game.
“When they scored their try you were thinking, this could get away from us, especially with Toulouse playing against 13 men,” agreed a bruised Lee Jones. “I think with us managing to hold out and even scoring points ourselves; that was the difference.”
Edinburgh went in at the half down by only four points. Toulouse would not score again.
With the home team restored to full strength in the second half, Toulouse nibbled round the fringes but never really sank their teeth into the match.
“When we got back to full complement we played the second half tactically very well” said Jones.
On tactics, Bradley elaborated: “Just to play Toulouse one way would be too easy for Toulouse to defend. What we tried to do was use multiple tactics… We kicked more ball today than we would normally kick, intentionally. We had to keep varying the target.”
His plan seemed to work, as their back three wilted under Laidlaw’s variety of chips, dinks and plain old up-and-under bombs. Attempts by Lionel Beauxis to respond in kind were met with vociferous jeers every time he failed – which was often. Laidlaw himself wouldn’t take all the praise though.
The way he sees it, his kicks were enabled from the platform the forwards his forwards provided, and the French having little platform made their kicks much harder. “The defence probably won it for us,” said the man of the match. Laidlaw was also full of praise for the big crowd, which added to the pressure (but in Bradley’s estimation was probably worth an extra couple of points to Edinburgh).
“This week it was different, everybody was on edge a little bit,” Greig said regarding the nerves midweek. “It probably showed in the first 20 minutes.” Regardless though, the team had an energy he described as “extremely positive”.
The French might have fancied the scrum as an area they could dominate. Prior analysis by Toulouse had shown an Edinburgh pack struggling at that particular set piece, but the consensus from Census Johnston was that Edinburgh had done their prep too.
“They did very good homework on us. They got a sniff in the second half and put us back.” He maintained that it didn’t dent their confidence, but “it was a bit of a surprise.” Rather than physicality it was “cleverness” that had given Edinburgh the edge in the scrums, at least as far as referee Owens was refereed them.
In defence, Scott and De Luca were everywhere. Even the smaller men like Jones were chipping in with huge hits that kept the crowd on Toulouse’s backs baying for more.
“I was pleased with those couple of hits,” said Jones on the ten minute spell when the momentum swung inexorably towards the home team. One moment in particular saw him bury Galan in the turf, having lined him up from some distance.
“If they had got it away we would have been in a bit of trouble. It was all about the timing – I knew he was going to throw the wide pass.
“There were three guys there, and fortunately I picked the right one.”
These are the moments of skill, good decision making (from a player or ref) or simply good fortune that turn games at the top level, and on Saturday the egg for the most part bounced in Edinburgh’s favour.
“You can’t overestimate how important those little moments are,” said Mike Blair; although he wouldn’t be drawn on why Scotland don’t get the luck in such moments.
Toulouse fans saving themselves and their Euros for the semi or the final trips will this week be disappointed. They were, as Guy Noves said, “not as strong as usual.”
“We have to go back to the drawing board, and think now.”
For Edinburgh conversely there will be a frantic scramble for flights from Edinburgh to Dublin – and presumably a resultant price hike from Messrs O’Leary, Stelios et al.
On the upcoming match with Ulster, Blair expected that the Ulstermen would have the backing of most of the fans in Dublin, but said, “It would be great to get as many people over as possible.
“A lot of people, a lot of very loyal fans, have been waiting a long time for this kind of match.”