Edinburgh’s European Challenge Cup adventure came crashing to its conclusion at the hands of the impressive Top 14 leaders La Rochellae at BT Murrayfield last night.
Duncan Hodge’s men were slow out of the blocks and their visitors took full advantage as they scored two tries from scrum-half Arthur Retiere and tighthead Mohamed Boughmnmi inside the first quarter to take a 0-14 lead.
Chris Dean’s break down the right was the first glimmer of an Edinburgh chance but he neglected the potential overlap. It took them a while to build any momentum in the game but it was his midfield colleague who got the scoreboard moving, as Phil Burleigh profited from a scrappy line out to dive over.
Jason Tovey, preferred to Scotland stand-off Duncan Weir in the number 10 jersey, landed an impressive conversion to half the arrears.
The visitors struck back almost immediately, though, as their lively scrum-half Arthur Retiere broke up the touchline before running through Blair Kinghorn’s poor tackle attempt to score. Ex-Clermont veteran Brock James missed the conversion, but the Frenchmen led 7-19 as the game passed the half-hour mark.
Edinburgh’s only route into the match appeared to be from the boot of Tovey, who kicked a succession of penalties to within 5m of the La Rochelle line as Edinburgh struggled to make the territory count. The home pack finally ditched the bludgeon for a clever move round the front which saw Ross Ford barrel over out wide.
Tovey this time missed the conversion, but cut the gap to 12-26 at the break.
It was tough going for Hodge’s side, with the two tries really their only positives to take from a first 40 minutes that left them chasing the game through too many errors.
HALF-TIME: Edinburgh Rugby 12-26 La Rochelle
La Rochelle had the better of the game immediately after the restart, but Edinburgh struck first as they had to.
A great break from Hamish Watson built pressure for the hosts, then Cornell Du Preez found Damien Hoyland with a stunning offload, before two phases later, Watson re-appeared to dive over.
Sam Hidalgo-Clyne took over the kicking duties as Tovey departed injured, and cut the gap to seven with the conversion.
Edinburgh were playing like a different side in the second half with Watson and Du Preez to the fore, and they cut the gap further when Damien Hoyland broke down the touchline.
He was pulled back illegally by the visitors’ replacement Lekso Jaulashvili, who was sent to the sin-bin, and Duncan Weir cut the gap to four points with a 65th-minute penalty that should perhaps have gone to the corner.
No sooner had Hodge’s side cut the gap than they conceded a penalty, and James kicked the French league leaders seven points clear once more with 10 minutes left.
A glorious chance to take the lead went begging on 71 minutes when, after sustained pressure near the La Rochelle line, Simon Berghan threw a wild offload to ground, and the visitors kicked to safety.
Edinburgh enjoyed another period of possession towards the end, but were unable to unlock the visitors’ defence as they bowed out of the competition.
James kicked a late penalty to move the gap to 10 points and seal La Rochelle’s semi-final place. On their first half form, they could well return to BT Murrayfield for the final.
SRBlog Man of the Match: There were few performances to crow about in the first half but Hamish Watson sparked the Edinburgh revival in the second half. Strong carrying, tackling and surprising pace. Typical Watson.