Edinburgh travelled to Paris for the first of the back-to-back rematches of last year’s encounters against Racing Metro 92. While the dramatic home game was the one that gained the plaudits then, the away affair was an equally high try-scoring affair until Phil Godman got them out of jail at the end with an unlikely drop goal.
Could a team that had scored no points so far in their European campaign score some, let alone get their Heineken campaign going?
Laidlaw answered the first of these questions by getting points on the board early, with a penalty almost from the kickoff. Given further chances by Racing Metro (in conjunction with Irish ref Peter Fitzgibbon) he missed two further kicks; Olly Barkley duly evened it up with 3 points instead.
Back from a spell on international duty that showed the big winger it’s not all sun in the South Sea Islands and making All Blacks look silly, Tim Visser had an early chance but fumbled the wobbly cross field kick. Possibly he was thinking how easy it was going to be to score. Hopefully it wasn’t the typical Scottish reaction of panic.
On the other side, the man for whom the term “mercurial” was coined, Juan Martin Hernandez looking like he fancied mixing it up as he always does. He overcooked a few kicks but luckily his wingers were up for work too and it wasn’t long before they found themselves in scoring position despite his odd error.
Imhoff squeezed over in the corner on 19 minutes after taking an easy overlap but he could have been kept out if Brown had made the tackle rather than falling off it. Racing Metro were by that point playing with that particular mixture of power and confidence that often undoes Scottish sides (see Munster v Glasgow last week).
Edinburgh survived the next onslaught and the impressive Grant Gilchrist turned ball over as Racing attacked the line. Conversely there were knock-ons aplenty from the men in black and with the game being played largely in the Edinburgh half, they were only gifting the ball back to Racing’s counterattack.
The home team on the other hand played patiently, and Barkley garnered another penalty to make it 11-3 with half an hour gone. One thing was for sure, it certainly wasn’t the enterprising game of crazy that we saw last time.
Edinburgh gradually found better gains from playing a territorial game as Laidlaw and Scott kicked in behind Racing Metro, but Laidlaw missed another penalty on the edge of his range, so the second time the Racing defence was pinged for offside they went for the corner instead.
The resulting maul was a real guddle but the home side brought it down and conceded an easier kick to Laidlaw, narrowing the gap at half time with a score of 11-6.
Edinburgh came out in the second half looking like they were missing the aforementioned crazy, running from deep and still trying offloads and pop passes despite a smothering defence from the hosts.
The lively Greg Tonks was finding gaps though and Denton found much greater profit in running at space rather than tacklers. Visser narrowly missed another cross-field kick for a scoring chance but the execution was much closer to working this time.
The game was now at a much higher pace. Often Edinburgh’s moves broke down – as these things often do if you are a Scotland fan – with a mistake or turnover. It was a shame really as McInally and Gilchrist were punching holes when they got the ball and when Nel came on the scrum contest was considerably levelled, earning a penalty at the first time of asking.
Edinburgh though messed up the lineout when they kicked for touch and instead of scoring position, found themselves back in their own half turning over ball to the opposition.
Racing kept the attack up and Edinburgh had to defend a massive onslaught by the home team on their own line. Edinburgh survived; boos rang out, the players were getting done for backchat.
If Edinburgh could find a score somehow they could win it. Equally a score for Racing could snuffle out the visitor’s resistance.
As it was they couldn’t hold forever and Racing Metro bundled over in numbers to set the horns trumpeting, order restored.
Edinburgh didn’t give up though with almost a quarter of the match still to play and attacked again. Since missing the tackle for Racing Metro’s first try, Tom Brown had been throwing himself body and soul into the game. When he cut a nice line off a popped inside ball from Laidlaw, the defender he was hoping would have moved out wider clattered his knee and he had to be stretchered off.
The substitutes other than Nel made an impact too, with Titterell and Parker keen for work and Piers Francis making his first appearance for Edinburgh and moving Greig Laidlaw back to 9, where many see his long term future. Edinburgh were still attacking keenly but errors were still letting them down. Forcing the issue didn’t help, with too many pop passes not going to hand or even remotely near a fellow Edinburgh player.
Racing threatened a couple of counter-attacks – and were equally slapdash with their own handling – but really all they had to do was make their tackles count and contest the breakdown. A late penalty undid all Edinburgh’s work and put Racing back out of range with three minutes to play.
Edinburgh had come close to getting a real result but in the end a lack of composure was, as always, the key to their downfall.
Fittingly, it ended with a knock on.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Stuart McInally – finally showed why he’s been keeping Denton at 6 and Talei on the bench with a tireless display of ball-carrying. Neither man offloaded much though.