Edinburgh today made it into their first ever Challenge Cup semi-final after holding on to defeat London Irish 23-18. Tries for WP Nel and Fraser Mackenzie, coupled with another successful day with the boot for Sam Hidalgo Clyne was enough to hold off a late surge by the Irish Exiles.
The first half could be split neatly into two sections: 20 minutes of domination by Edinburgh followed by 20 similar minutes from London Irish. It was Hidalgo-Clyne who led from the start with his impressive boot putting Edinburgh on the scoreboard after only 2 minutes.
Although Edinburgh now enjoyed a bit of possession, Shane Geraghty had the opportunity to level the scores, but his kick went wide. In between this and Irish’s first points, a strong driving maul 5 metres out became the perfect setup for WP Nel to spin and dive over the line for the game’s first try. Hidalgo-Clyne’s touchline conversion extended the lead now to 10.
Another two penalties followed for the newly-capped Scotsman, although Irish finally started to threaten, enjoying possession close to the try line. On both occasions, however, poor hands ended these chances, Tom Court knocking on inches from the whitewash on the first opportunity. Edinburgh’s defence, led by Roddy Grant and Hamish Watson, looked strong and steady.
With half an hour gone, Geraghty finally got Irish’s side of the scoreboard ticking but that was just the start of their attack. The game was now being played predominately in Edinburgh’s half with Irish in possession. Then, from a set piece, Geraghty shipped the ball out to his wing before a forward-looking inside pass to flanker Conor Gilsenan who ran the remaining 30 metres to score, confirmed after the TMO reported that there was no “obvious” obstruction (by Blair Cowan). Geraghty converted on the stroke of half time.
Half Time: London Irish 10-16 Edinburgh
It was Irish who came out all-guns blazing at the start of the second half as phases were quickly built up around Edinburgh’s 22m line. After Geraghty closed the deficit to 3 points, a cheeky chip from the fly-half was caught by Topsy Ojo just metres short, although a good offload saw Scottish scrum-half Scott Steele cross in the corner. Edinburgh had just gone from being 16-0 up to 18-16 down.
After taking their beating, Edinburgh now looked to get up and score and much like the opposition, soon built up the phases in Irish territory. With penalty advantage looming, Heathcote sprayed the ball out to Dougie Fife who was in space but failed to use the 2-on-1. Replacement lock Fraser Mackenzie then came in to save the day, finding a wee gap in the defence to score Edinburgh’s second try. Hidalgo-Clyne converted again.
Both teams still wanted to score, but for the next 20 minutes, neither side could gain any advantage with Fife the closest having come agonisingly close to getting on the end of a cross kick. With 10 minutes remaining the game once again lit up with Irish enjoying possession again. Edinburgh’s defence was holding strong, but could they hold up for the rest of the game?
Irish were winning penalties now but with every corner kick, their driving maul just could not get over the line. John Andress was given a yellow card after an accumulation of penalties, although in the final minute, Edinburgh had a scrum in their own 22, but the ball was spilled just a couple of phases later.
London Irish were now pushing closer and closer to the line and eventually hooker David Paice seemed to cross over, but the TMO would be needed. With the question being “Try: Yes or No?” a grounding would have to be seen to be given. However, despite every replay, there was no sign of the ball, resulting in no try and the end of the game.
Final Score: London Irish 18 23 Edinburgh
SRBlog Man of the Match: Alasdair Dickinson was very impressive in the scrum whilst he was on, however, once again Sam Hidalgo-Clyne’s kicking was superb and combined with his good gameplay, he certainly seems like he should be Scotland’s in-form scrum half going into the World Cup…
Edinburgh now go through to the Challenge Cup semi-final, to be played against Newport Gwent Dragons on Friday 17th April at BT Murrayfield. Will there be a repeat of the crowds of that Heineken Cup quarter-final in 2012?
This article first appeared on RugbyEdinburgh.