THERE was utter devastation in the Edinburgh camp as they threw away their chance of a European Challenge Cup quarter-final with two dreadful mistakes in the final 10 minutes of a game where they had been ahead for all but a few seconds of the first 70 minutes.
Their blunders allowed London Irish, who won with a try bonus point at Agen, to overtake them in the pool and claim the final spot in the knockout stages.
What will have particularly annoyed Edinburgh head coach Alan Solomons was that they were the creators of their own downfall with sloppy errors when the pressure came on, making all the good work earlier worthless. Gio Aplon, the South African star in the French ranks, was the man who made them pay, but it was stupid mistakes that gave him the chances.
Perhaps some of the pressure had been lifted before the game. With results elsewhere, in particular Newcastle Falcons winning their rollercoaster game against Brive, any kind of tight game was going to send both teams through.
Grenoble’s extra bonus point meant they were already safe, while Edinburgh needed only a single point to be sure of going through. The only way they could fail to make the quarter-finals was by messing up and getting nothing from the game, allowing London Irish to overtake them for second spot in the pool if they could pick up four tries in winning at Agen.
The lengths the Edinburgh team management went to in order to make sure none of the players knew there was any reason to relax showed how seriously they were taking this match. As far as the team knew, it was still — as it had been all week – a game they had to win.
They certainly set off looking like that, with their pack power being set against the more fluent handling and wider game from the French side. Early on power won.
Centre Matt Scott set up a promising position with an interception. He did not have the pace to go all the way, but after forcing a lineout five yards from the line, there was only one thing they were going to do – maul. It worked, with John Hardie going over and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne converting for an early lead.
That only seemed to inspire the Fench, however. They had already proved they had come to run the ball and were finding holes in the Scots defence to keep the game all in the visitors’ half. The reward was two penalties from Grenoble stand-off Jonathan Wisniewski but he also missed a long-range effort to edge his side in front.
Edinburgh did restore their four-point advantage with Hidalgo-Clyne’s first penalty, but quickly fell behind with a moment that enraged the home crowd. Will Helu, the wing, seemed lucky to escape a yellow card for a deliberate knock-down and though it did cost his side the lead, it was to prove pivotal.
The penalty was kicked to touch, with Arnaud Heguy, the home hooker, being driven over from the maul with Wisniewski converting, but soon after the restart it was Helu, the man the home crowd were convinced should have been in the sin bin, who was there to latch on to a loose ball after a kick went astray to restore the Scots’ lead with their second try.
It had all promised a great deal more but as the second half wore on, the teams seemed to resort more and more to kicking for position and the only thing affecting the scoreboard was a series of penalties, with both Wisniewski and Hidalgo-Clyne popping over two each.
That only gave Aplon the chance to make them pay. He reacted first when a speculative high kick went loose. There was a penalty coming anyway at the foot of the Edinburgh post but Aplon had no trouble scoring the try that put his side in front for the first time in the second half.
Then, with the game secure, he got a bonus when Edinburgh lost the ball on their own 10-yard line and he was handed an easy run-in. With 12 points in the final few minutes, Grenoble had gone from one behind to stopping Edinburgh claiming a losingh bonus and had knocked them out of the tournament.
Scorers: Grenoble: Tries: Heguy, Aplon 2. Cons: Wisniewski 2. Pens: Wisniewski 5. Edinburgh: Tries: Hardie, Helu. Cons: Hidalgo-Clyne 2. Pens: Hidalgo-Clyne 3.
Grenoble: G Aplon; X Mignot (F Gengenbacher, 68), C Farrell, N Hunt, D Kilioni; J Wisniewski, C McLeod; F Barcella (S Taumalolo, 18), A Heguy, D Edwards, B Hand (C) (J Percival, 30), P Kimlin , H Vanderglas, M Diaby (F Alexandre, 47), R Grice.
Edinburgh: G Tonks; D Hoyland, M Allen, M Scott, W Helu; P Burleigh (D Fife, 71), S Hidalgo-Clyne; A Dickinson (A Dell, 87), R Ford (N Cochrane, 65), WP Nel (S Berghan, 65), A Bresler (A Toolis, 7), B Toolis, M Coman (C), J Hardie (H Watson, 60), C Du Preez.
Referee: G Garner (England).