Sandy Smith at BT Murrayfield
The weather at BT Murrayfield on Friday night might not have been given an official designation but it was significant enough to affect the nature of this game, just as it had a week previously against Scarlets.
Right from the first whistle it was apparent that handling was going to be difficult as Connacht’s openside Colby Faingaa dropped the kick off just outside his own 22. Edinburgh however managed to mess up the scrum and spurned that early possession.
For the next 20 minutes Edinburgh played pretty much without the ball or any significant territory but did get the only scores in that period through the boot of Simon Hickey. Both kicks in kinder conditions would have been described as straightforward, but in the swirling wind inside the Murrayfield bowl they must have been particularly gratifying for the standoff to slot.
As the second quarter began Edinburgh scored the first try of the game. Following some in-your-face tackling from Edinburgh around the halfway line, Connacht spilled the ball and from the ruck that followed Groom found Hickey who fed Matt Scott on his favoured inside line. Scott powered and swerved his way to the Connacht try line before seemingly touching down under the posts.
A lengthy TMO intervention ensued that eventually resulted in a penalty try being awarded. Referee Marius Mitrea concluding that despite Scott knocking the ball on just before grounding, he had been tackled illegally by Connacht stand-off Jack Carty. It was a double whammy for Connacht as Carty was also yellow carded.
The extra man and the solid lead that Edinburgh now had seemed to energise them and they controlled the next period almost all the way to the haft time whistle.
Their second score came on the 32nd minute as a patient 13 phases at close quarter to the Connacht line was finished by Simon Berghan forcing his way over for only the second time in his professional career. Hickey added the two to leave the score at Edinburgh 20 Connacht 0.
In the wake of that score, Connacht were restored to fifteen and enjoyed a five minute period camped on Edinburgh’s line with the pressure eventually telling as they scored a pushover try with the clock in the red through full back Tiernan O’Halloran. Carty converted the score.
HT Edinburgh 20-7 Connacht
Now with a foothold in the game, Connacht started the second half in buoyant fashion. They closed the gap further with a converted try on the 48th minute mark that had its origin in a charged down Groom box kick. Damien Hoyland was forced to carry over the Edinburgh try line and from the resultant Connacht scrum they worked their way towards the posts and again Tiernan O’Halloran acting like an auxiliary forward scored from a drive.
As an aside, that has to be the 4th or 5th charged down box kick from Nic Groom this season. It doesn’t seem a significant number but I can’t recall the much maligned Henry Pyrgos ever being charged down. Technique needing some work?
The next ten minutes were quite nervous both on the pitch and in the stands as it seemed like the metaphorical wind was with Connacht. As it turned out, that 48th minute try was to be their last hurrah in the game.
On 58 minutes Pierre Schoeman, in the wake of a great Bill Mata drive that gave Edinburgh good field position, extended Edinburgh’s lead with a clever touchdown against the base of the posts. Hickey duly converted the score.
Whatever spark that Connacht had left was extinguished entirely on the 67th minute. With a penalty advantage in hand, Simon Hickey threw a looping pass to Duhan Van Der Merwe who despite the attention of 2 Connacht defenders was able to force the ball down to score in the corner. The tricky conversion was made by Hickey.
Even though the bonus point was now secure, the drama wasn’t over.
On 71 minutes Eroni Sau, rounding off a frustrating night for him, put in a ferocious tackle on Connacht’s number 23 Tom Daly. Unfortunately it was a little too acrobatic, and with Daly’s legs in the air although he came to ground safely it earned the big Fijian a yellow card.
On 75 minutes Nick Haining and Connacht’s Eoghan Masterson were the next to get yellow cards after a bout of handbags that went on too long for Mitrea’s taste.
In the dying minutes, Edinburgh, despite now being down to 13 men were able to extend their lead. A brand new front row including Murray McCallum back at his pre-conversion position of loosehead and acadmy player Dan Winning on for his Edinburgh debut, destroyed the Connacht scrum next to the posts and Mitrea awarded the capital side their second penalty try of the evening.
There were a few moments left for one more piece of drama. Connacht regathered the kick off and chipped through. Charlie Shiel, who was on for Groom caught the ball in his own half and made a cracking run. He was almost at the Connacht 22 when he was tripped up by Conor Fitzgerald who became the 5th yellow card of the night. Any closer to the try line and another penalty try may have resulted.
Edinburgh kicked the penalty dead to finish the game.
A big winning margin and a lot of yellow cards would on the face of it look like the game was ill-tempered and one-sided – but that wasn’t the case. Edinburgh looked shaky when Connacht got back within 6 points but made more tackles throughout than their Irish opponents and missed only 6 so that probably tells more of a story on how the game unfolded. They also made more efficient use of the possession.
I don’t expect many supporters expected a bonus point win. The bandwagon rolls on.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Scottish Rugby Blog Man of the match: There were many candidates for this award. Luke Crosbie was as usual a complete pain for the opposition and plaudits should also go to Stan South making his Edinburgh debut memorable with lineout steals and turnovers in his column. Bill Mata, one knock on aside was immense as was Pierre Schoeman who topped the tackle stats. I am, however giving it to Simon Hickey. He ran his line well, kicked two really difficult penalties in the early stages, was one comical slip away from being immaculate off the tee and threw a looping pass for Duhan’s score that if he was playing in some fancy stadium in France we would be waxing lyrical about. I don’t know if anyone is keeping score, but he took a small step ahead of Van Der Walt in the standoff stakes with this performance.