Edinburgh’s trip to Munster at the tail end of last season had been one of the darkest days for fans of the pro-team so it was with some trepidation that those same fans will have seen a trip to Thomond Park lined up as the first fixture of the new Guinness PRO12 season.
Viewing the opening minutes it was almost an unrecognisable Edinburgh side, not just on the team sheet. Tom Heathcote – in for last-minute call off Greig Tonks and in from the Bath wilderness – kicking two early penalties, and Edinburgh taking a Munster scrum to pieces in brutal fashion.
Under Alan Solomons last year Edinburgh were wildly schizophrenic but this was a much more assured looking Edinburgh, even against new coach Anothony Foley’s rusty looking Munster team.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses – for every good break like Fraser McKenzie’s there was the forward pass by Heathcote that would put Dougie Fife over the line timed correctly. The defence looked well drilled though, and Atkins and McKenzie in the second row were providing plenty of muscle backed up by Cornell du Preez and fizzy newcomer Hamish Watson.
The complexion of the match changed a bit after half an hour when blindside Tomas Leonardi made an iffy tackle on Thomond favourite Simon Zebo and was yellow carded. His opposite number CJ Stander barrelled through Strauss and Beard from close range to bring the home side within a point and they failed to convert to leave Edinburgh with a narrow lead.
Another slightly forward pass on the other wing left Tim Visser unsure if he should run it in. He did, but the TMO chalked it off. Luckily Edinburgh had a penalty advantage and went in another Heathcote penalty to the good.
HT: Munster 5-9 Edinburgh
After half time Leighton Hodges got a bit too prominent, first sending Hamish Watson to the bin almost as Leonardi was warming up to return, then spending some time debating with the TMO as to whether or not Donncha O’ Callaghan had recklessly used his boot. It turned out he had, but the gawky Irishman stayed on the park.
Edinburgh were stung into life and some jinking runs around the tackle area by the lively Sean Kennedy created space further out. Sam Beard – who till then had been quiet in attack – put a perfectly weighted grubber behind the Munster defence and it bounced up perfectly for Jack Cuthbert to collect and score the try. Heathcote was unable to convert from out wide, but Edinburgh had scored 8 points to Munster’s 5 during the almost 20 minutes they were a man down.
Ex-Super Rugby Highlanders man Phil Burleigh was welcomed to PRO12 rugby by a swamping of Munstermen as the home side continued to press searching for a way back in, but Solomons’ men held their shape resolutely as Munster realised they were in serious danger of losing.
The only player making any serious ground for Munster was CJ Stander, and he duly dragged Munster back into the game, bouncing Heathcote away for another short range dart. Again though the penalty was missed by Keatley keeping daylight between the teams.
Edinburgh attacked with a level of confidence not seen for a year or two although in a much more direct fashion than the swashbuckling days of Laidlaw and De Luca, Sean Kennedy using his beefy pack to make ground and playing to the strengths of the oddball mix that Alan Solomons has assembled.
It was almost reminiscent of watching Glasgow, which these days is a compliment.
Keatley finally hit the mark with ten minutes to go making the score 13-14 and as the benches came on, Edinburgh started to look edgy as the home crowd grew in confidence. Heathcote and Hidalgo-Clyne both kicked from hand poorly when possession was so vital.
Dougie Fife so nearly smashed the home side’s hopes as he broke through and passed to Watson inside rather than Burleigh outside. Although Watson was having a great game he couldn’t cap it with a try and was penalised for frantically holding on. His “punishment” was to finish the game on the wing as Visser limped off and Edinburgh found themselves short of backs.
Hodges awarded Edinburgh a late penalty at the edge of Heathcote’s range with just over a minute to go, and although he missed the effort it used up enough time to see the clock to 80 minutes.
Munster threw everything at the last play, sprinting back with Zebo to the fore. It looked like a tragic end as Nel was carded for killing it with 82 minutes but his blushes were spared as Keatley also missed to allow Edinburgh the win they deserved.