Edinburgh hosted the surprise Pro 12 league leaders Connacht at a nigh on deserted BT Murrayfield, bolstered by the return to Gunners colours of Matt Scott, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Rory Sutherland. The capital side were immediately under pressure however, with Connacht showing why they are looking down at the rest of the table. Their Super 15 style blend of fast ball, accuracy and brute force when required was threatening to overwhelm the Edinburgh defence. A penalty attempt on 5 minutes sailed wide, but the white waves kept on coming. The only surprise was that it took 20 minutes for the Irish to score, with American fly half AJ MacGinty crossing the whitewash. Craig Ronaldson nailed the easy conversion to make it a 7 point lead.
Matt Scott’s return to the Edinburgh side ended very prematurely, with what looked like a shoulder injury. Scott wouldn’t be in my 23 for the France game anyway on form, but it’s another cruel blow for the talented centre. Sam Beard took his place and I hope the injury report is favourable.
Edinburgh continued to offer absolutely nothing in attack, with stationary runners being cut down easily by the physical Connacht defence. Anton Bresler made life even harder for his team, getting sin binned on 31 minutes. The usual kick to corner tactic resulted in an unstoppable truck of white heading to the Edinburgh try line. Jake Heenan surfaced with the ball and at this stage Edinburgh looked like they could be on the end of a hiding. Another easy conversion for Ronaldson put the score up to 14.
Edinburgh finally got some go forward, in the shape of Scotland 7s international Damien Hoyland. A brilliant break by the young winger saw Edinburgh with a 4-2 overlap, which Jamie Ritchie failed to spot. The penalty thankfully was given for a previous high tackle, and the Connacht full back Tiernan O’Halloran saw yellow. 14 men a piece, clock red but Hidalgo-Clyne missed the penalty to the right of the uprights.
HT Edinburgh 0 – 14 Connacht
One can only imagine the roasting the home side would have received in the changing room, but it had the desired effect with some brilliant ball carrying and lovely close control eventually setting up Chris Dean for a tidy finish. The young centre had been composed throughout and deserved the try. Edinburgh were back in the game but Hidalgo-Clyne still couldn’t find his shooting boots, hitting the post with the conversion. 14-5 Connacht but much better from Edinburgh now.
Well, much better… until 30 seconds later. Terrible defending in the red zone left Bundee Aki the opportunity to walk under the posts untouched, finishing with a 10 out of 10 swan dive. The defensive team at Murrayfield will be having something to say about the lack of, well anything, when the squad reassembles to review the game. Another 2 points for Ronaldson and at 21-5 I expected Edinburgh to revert back to their first half performance. Luckily for the sake of entertainment, I was wrong.
The capital men had come right back at Connacht, with Du Preez and Watson in particular showing up well. Damian Hoyland got the try that his endeavour had deserved on 51 minutes, with Hidalgo-Clyne finally getting one over. 21-12 with 30 minutes to go.
They didn’t stop there either! More one up passing, hard carrying and not much adventure was enough to see Cornell Du Preez squeeze into the corner, much to the delight of the hardy band of Edinburgh supporters in the ground. Hidalgo-Clyne missed a very difficult conversion but Edinburgh had made it a 4 point game with 20 minutes left.
Edinburgh had been under pressure in the scrum for periods in the game, but came up with an absolute blinder to push the Irish into submission. This saw Rodney Ah You, who had only arrived at half time, hooked for what did not look to be injury related circumstance. The big lad will be horrifically embarrassed by this but I am sure he will learn from it. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne was not feeling sorry for Big Rodney though, knocking a second penalty which was right in front of the posts over for 3 points. 1 point in it, and momentum on the side of the Scots.
Connacht looked out on their feet, but a superb turnover from their captain gave the Irish field position. The first half pressure on the Scots line was repeated and from a 5m scrum the replacement back row Eion McKeon crashed over, killing the Edinburgh challenge. The conversion was straightforward, making it an 8 point game with 5 minutes to go.
The final minutes were eaten up by scrums and technical infringements from the Irish, and when given the chance to knock over a simple 25m kick for a losing bonus point, the capital men took it and consoled themselves that they probably didn’t deserve even that based on their first half performance. Connacht will be happy, 5 points bagged and another massive step towards their first playoff appearance. All in all an entertaining second 40 minutes but Connacht look a big step ahead of Edinburgh (missing some 6 Nations internationals of course).
FT Edinburgh 23 – 28 Connacht
SRBlog Man of the Match: Andy Nicol plumped for AJ MacGinty which I cannot disagree with. The American playmaker controlled the game for the Irish, and got the big beasts in the Connacht pack moving at pace. From a Scottish perspective my MotM was Damien Hoyland. Every time the young winger touched the ball you felt like something good would happen. A bright future in the 15s game awaits. Honourable mentions to Rory Sutherland who carried hard, Cornell Du Preez who will be a magnificent addition to the Scottish back row on this evidence and Tom Brown, who has impressed me every time I have seen him recently. He was once talked up as one with great potential and on this form a wee jaunt during the summer months might not be out of the question.
Edinburgh: Kinghorn, Hoyland, Dean, Scott, Brown, Burleigh, Hidalgo-Clyne, Sutherland, Cochrane, Andress, Bresler, B. Toolis, Ritchie, Watson, Du Preez.
Replacements: Beard for Scott (23), Dell for Sutherland (48), Berghan for Andress (41), A. Toolis for Bresler (67). Not Used: Turner, Bradbury, Kennedy, Fife.
Sin Bin: Bresler (31).
Connacht: O’Halloran, Poolman, Aki, Ronaldson, Healy, MacGinty, Marmion, Buckley, McCartney, White, Roux, Muldowney, O’Brien, Heenan, Muldoon, Ah You.
Replacements: Blade for Marmion (61), Heffernan for McCartney (74), Ah You for White (41), Qualter for Roux (60), McKeon for O’Brien (68), Bealham for Ah You (67). Not Used: Robb, Carr.
Sin Bin: O’Halloran (40).
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)