If not wholly a cagey opening ten minutes, this crucial European fixture at BT Murrayfield started with Edinburgh seeming a little unsure of themselves.
Perhaps they were awed a bit by a big crowd and the possibility of not only securing a quarter final, but possibly also doing their mates at Glasgow a favour for a historic double. Bill Mata even fumbled a high ball – it was tense.
Still, things settled as Jaco Van Der Walt slotted an opening penalty after 12 minutes and another after 16, after several offences had been committed by Vern’s team (specialist coach: N. Hines) and whistled up by referee JP Doyle.
Doyle seemed also to tire of Henry Pyrgos’s overly-telegraphed box kicks and called the ball “out” on one occasion that saw the scrum-half clattered. So Montpellier were able to exert more pressure in the narrow channels around the ruck, but at scrum-time the Edinburgh pack had them on toast.
At the half-hour mark, there were two substitutions that neither player would have been happy about. Jannie du Plessis was hooked by the coaches – after Montpellier conceded another scrum penalty – and was replaced with a hefty Georgian proposition, while Edinburgh and Scotland openside Hamish Watson was taken off with an arm injury that left him looking none too pleased. Gregor Townsend wouldn’t have been too chuffed either.
The du Plessis gang had another poor moment when lock Jacques du Plessis caught WP Nel high and Van Der Walt kicked a further three points, but the rangy South African lock redeemed himself right at the end of the half as Montpellier rammed themselves straight back into contention with a close range try. Ruan Pienaar tapped a rare Edinburgh penalty and with a further penalty advantage in their favour, the hulking pack did the rest.
Half-time: Edinburgh 9-7 Montpellier
Momentum had indeed shifted around half-time, with Edinburgh dropping balls while Ruan Pienaar put the visitors in the lead for the first time after 47 minutes. Kinghorn kicked the restart dead and players like Frans Steyn suddenly remembered they were on the pitch.
Duhan Van Der Merwe and Bill Mata never gave up though, with bludgeoning and mazy runs respectively giving the home fans voice and making some metres. Edinburgh eventually made the Montpellier 22 but could not breach the defence. Another 3 points from Van Der Walt’s boot was a consolation of sorts, but you sensed that a try might just rock Montpellier back on their heels.
Kinghorn and even the superb WP Nel were heavily involved in the attacking play but it was Darcy Graham who got the try following a sustained barrage by the Edinburgh pack, Pyrgos flicking a pass from the base out to the winger who dove over unopposed.
Montpellier came straight back at them but Edinburgh produced a huge shift in defence – without offending, during a game in which they conceded very few penalties – to repel a French incursion into their 22 that saw them safely into the last ten minutes retaining their 9 point lead.
Edinburgh played “keep ball” for a big chunk of that remaining time, and even after a puzzling garryowen from Van Der Walt that gave Montpellier a final chance with the ball, they were unable to capitalise on it.
Edinburgh go on to a home quarter final, and for the first time there will be two Scottish sides in the knockout stages regardless of Glasgow’s result tomorrow.
SRBlog Man of the Match: it’s too close to call which shows the closeness of this team as a unit. Gilchrist, Dean and Kinghorn were very good, Mata was tireless but I’m giving it to the entire front row. Schoeman saw off his man at scrum time and put in his usual flying carries, McInally continues to ascend the heights of world hookerdom (that should be a thing) with another titanic shift and as for WP Nel, he may be playing the best rugby of his career. On a day where the Pinball suffered a potentially serious hand/arm injury, the return to form of our favourite project prop at least, is great news for Scotland fans.