If the Rugby Gods were to offer Cockerill and the Edinburgh fans a guaranteed bonus point going into a tough away fixture in France, many of them would have taken it and considered it a great result. At full time, Edinburgh achieved just that.
However, it was not a feeling of delight at full time: it was frustration.
Edinburgh started brightly and were certainly up for the contest, but it was Montpellier who were quicker out of the blocks. After demonstrating their power game on the fifth minute through a maul, the ball was swept wide and Ruan Pienaar, playing at fly-half, used his magic feet to side-step a defender and offload to Immelman for the score, converted for a 7-0 lead.
Despite the early score, Edinburgh established themselves in the game by building possession and territory in the first half. This persistence was rewarded after a swashbuckling move resulted in a try for captain Stuart McInally. From a series of offloads and great support lines all started by Mata and Gilchrist, Henry Pyrgos was caught just short of the try line. Thankfully, Dougie Fife was there to provide a great clearout and McInally followed up with a quick pick and go to score. After twenty minutes it was all square.
The final ten minutes of the half was arguably Montpellier’s best passage of the game and it resulted in two converted tries. Benjamin Fall raced clear down his wing, breezing through two weak tackles from Kinghorn and Hickey. The third score for Montpellier came just before half-time after a surge into the Edinburgh half. Through offloads and strong carries, it was finished off with a cross field kick that bamboozled (the not very tall) James Johnstone and was caught on the run by Ngandebe. A Hickey penalty on the stroke of half-time meant the visitors were eleven points adrift.
Half-time: Montpellier 21-10 Edinburgh
The second half was a mixed bag for the Edinburgh fans as there was much to be encouraged by, but also shortcomings that ultimately cost them the match. Despite keeping Montpellier scoreless in the second half – a fantastic achievement – the visitors could not make the difference to their own scoreline despite ample opportunities. In the opening ten minutes, there were two opportunities to go for the posts but they opted for the corner and a scrum, in pursuit of tries.
On the 50th minute, a Hamish Watson try was disallowed for offside from a five-metre scrum.
Hopes suddenly rose when Edinburgh scored their second try of the afternoon. After some good passing and running from substitute Jaco Van der Walt, they were able to shift the ball to the left side. With composure and some good carries, it was finished off with a nice offload to Dougie Fife who went over in the corner. Unfortunately, Van der Walt could not convert.
Edinburgh were dominant in the final quarter, finishing with nearly 70% of possession and territory.
This did not result in any further points. The end of the scoring then, but certainly not the drama.
There was a lack of cutting edge from Edinburgh at times, passing and carrying from side to side, while Montpellier soaked up the pressure. Montpellier had the opportunity to take away the bonus point from Edinburgh on the 65th minute, but in their pursuit of the try-bonus for themselves, they opted for a lineout rather than the posts – arguably a lucky outcome for Edinburgh.
A disallowed try on the 70th minute summed up the lack of cutting edge when both Bradbury and Berghan ran the same short, tight line and crossed each other while Bradbury ran over. This could have been the winning score, but the kicking on the day from both Hickey and Van der Walt was not exceptional, so the conversion would not have been a formality.
Edinburgh continued to pressure Montpellier looking for that elusive converted try to sneak a win, especially since it seemed Montpellier might have run out of steam. The final act of the match which had Edinburgh fans with their hearts in their mouths was Picamoles’ interception of a loose Sean Kennedy pass, only for Chris Dean to make a try-saving tackle and salvage that bonus point.
Edinburgh’s forwards were not expected to match the physicality of Montpellier, but they more than matched them across the eighty minutes, with Toolis, Watson, Bradbury and Mata all having good games. Picamoles was given the Man of the Match award by French broadcasters, which makes sense from a French point of view. Picamoles topped carries, tackles and metres made for his side, but it was his opposite number that arguably could have won the gong for his role in the tries.
Edinburgh’s performance was encouraging for a number of reasons. Montpellier away is arguably the hardest game Edinburgh will face this pool stage and they came away with both a result and a good performance that displayed their credentials to be part of this competition. Furthermore, Newcastle’s surprise win in Toulon compounds the possibility that this group is more open than first believed, and this should encourage Edinburgh going into their home match against Toulon next week.
However, there was perhaps the need to take the points when they were on offer, especially with the scare at the end. Furthermore, at times when Edinburgh had an overlap, they weren’t quite able to execute, and with all the possession and territory, Cockerill would have hoped his side could have made more of chances. These issues will surely be addressed, but considering this is the first round of European rugby, it is understandable for slight mistakes to be made.
Edinburgh should be content with the point they gained in France, but their outlook on this pool might have swayed to a more positive and attacking outlook, knowing they have the players to beat all the teams in this pool.