The Challenge Cup group stages are now exactly halfway through. So it’s worth having a look to see how Edinburgh have gone and in light of that what their prospects are for the rest of the competition. Unless you are hardcore, and have watched EPCR’s live match feeds (single camera, no scoreline or replays) then it just might be that some of this will have escaped your attention.
Week one saw Edinburgh take on Agen in France. The Top 14 strugglers showed exactly why they are where they are as despite the fact that Edinburgh sent a largely second XV to play them they were soundly beaten at home.
The French side took the lead with an early penalty but as the first quarter finished Edinburgh were two converted tries to the good through the running of George Taylor and the boot of Simon Hickey respectively. They then added another before half time following a clever chip and chase from Damien Hoyland. At half time then the score was Agen 3 Edinburgh 21 and the travellers seemed well on course for a bonus point.
A Hickey penalty at the start of the second half extended Edinburgh’s lead but the next try came from Agen as they came into the game a bit. As the game drew to a close it seemed like the extra point would elude Edinburgh. With the clock in the red though they were encamped in the Agen 5 metre zone and eventually, following a series of penalties and an Agen yellow card, they managed to force Cammy Fenton over to leave with a full house.
A week later we were back at BT Murrayfield to face more French opposition, this time in the form of Bordeaux Begles. Unlike Agen, Bordeaux certainly aren’t struggling domestically and despite Edinburgh fielding what on paper looked like a much stronger side (than previous v Agen) the game ended in a stalemate.
The highlight of this game from an Edinburgh perspective was the ball being moved quickly through the backs until it found Blair Kinghorn in acres of space. The big full-back made the most of the opportunity and despite a last-ditch Bordeaux tackle he managed to score in the corner.
That score meant that at half time Edinburgh had a 10 point lead and you would have thought they would kick on from there in the second half, but there were too many errors throughout the side. Hampered first by the loss of Luke Crosbie in the first half and then his replacement John Barclay early in the second we gifted an opportunity to (the soon to be Bristol Bear) Semi Radradra who made easy work of cutting through the defence to score under the posts.
Edinburgh may just have held onto the 3 point lead that remained but coughed up possession again in the final minutes and then conceded a kickable penalty which Bordeaux took gratefully to leave Scotland with a tidy 2 points.
Following a confidence boosting win over Munster in Ireland in the PRO14, Edinburgh’s next European game was against Wasps at BT Murrayfield.
They are currently toiling a bit in the Premiership and have a bit of a second-row crisis but still sent a side north that looked decent on paper and at half time the score was delicately poised at 10-6. Only a nice team try finished by Duhan van Der Merwe and a penalty by Hickey gave Edinburgh the slender lead and it looked like Wasps might come away with something.
The score belied Edinburgh’s dominance however, and only inaccuracies and handling errors had given Wasps that foothold. In the second half Edinburgh’s handling improved a fair bit and three further tries all converted by Simon Hickey secured the game for the home side.
The first of the second half tries fell to Blair Kinghorn after Wasps spilled the ball and he ran it in from the halfway line.
Van Der Merwe’s second of the match was next and like Kinghorns of only a couple of minutes before was a run in from distance although this also featured a nice sidestep halfway there to help him on his way.
The last Edinburgh try of the night, and the bonus point, came from George Taylor who is quickly maturing into a really viable Scott/ Bennett alternative. Quick ball from a ruck on the Waps 5 metre line found him running a good angle and he scored unopposed in the corner.
Edinburgh’s prospects are good
At the halfway mark in the group Edinburgh are unbeaten with 2 wins and a draw and are handily placed to progress. They aren’t a shoo-in to win the group though because Bordeaux have identical match points, but following their demolition of Agen are top courtesy of their huge points difference.
I suspect that Wasps will probably rotate for the return leg although Edinburgh may well do likewise with a couple of important PRO14 games over the festive period to take into account! Regardless, the away leg against Bordeaux will undoubtedly be the decider in Pool 3. It seems likely at this stage that whoever is the runner up in this pool will also qualify.
Pool 1 – is delicately poised. Dragons, believe it or not, top it at the halfway mark, with Worcester only a point behind. If Worcester can go to Newport and win next week then with their run in they will probably top this group. The runners up in this pool may also get a quarter-final.
Pool 2 – Toulon are well ahead in this pool. Scarlets are second but with the exception of Zebre have the least number of points of all the teams in runners up places.
Pool 4 – Bristol are unbeaten in this pool and favourites to progress and potentially even win this competition. Zebre are second but it seems unlikely that they will get enough points from their remaining games to pick up a best runner up spot.
Pool 5 – Leicester are also unbeaten and are 3 points ahead of Cardiff in second. Both of these sides look likely to advance as the other two sides in this group are nowhere.
Based on current numbers and the remaining fixtures, this is my predicted quarter-final line up:
Bristol vs Cardiff
Leicester vs Bordeaux
Toulon vs Dragons
Edinburgh vs Worcester