Edinburgh chalked up their second win in succession in the RaboDirect PRO12 in Galway on Saturday night — but only after former Scottish fly-half Dan Parks missed a last-minute drop goal in front of the posts.
The miss by the most prolific scorer in the league’s history let Edinburgh off the hook after they failed to put away a gutsy but seriously understrength home side at the Sportsground.
Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley, who spent seven years there as head coach, was the first to admit they were lucky to survive.
“We were eight points ahead with ten minutes to go but Connacht came straight back into it and we got out of jail in the end,” admitted Bradley.
He fielded nine current internationals and that should have been enough to see off a Connacht side with 17 players sidelined through injury — they also lost captain Gavin Duffy in the opening half — but Bradley knows only too well the way they revel when the odds are stacked against them.
He passed the baton to his former Irish half-back partner and assistant coach Eric Elwood when he departed and knew that they would fancy a crack against a strong Edinburgh side.
“It is not about heart or anything like that – that’s a given here – but tactically they were very good and kept the pressure on us, particularly in the first half and didn’t let us settle at all.
“They got in amongst us again in the second half and we got a couple of lucky breaks. We got 14 points from block-downs and kick-throughs and things like that so Eric will be disappointed with that, but his lads were fantastic.”
Several times Edinburgh threatened to pull away and while they never trailed once, –Tim Visser displayed awesome pace after five minutes on a counter from deep to score his tenth of the campaign – they just could not put sufficient daylight between them to feel comfortable.
The fired-up Connacht pack rumbled over from a line-out for hooker Jason Harris-Wright to touchdown after 12 minutes and when Matt Scott raced on to a chip in the 22 from the superb Greig Laidlaw for a second try after 35 minutes, Connacht responded with a penalty by Parks to leave it 17-13 to the visitors at the break.
Scott should have grabbed a second try ten minutes after the restart but knocked-on with the line in sight having done all the hard work, before Parks reduced the deficit to the minimum with a penalty from distance on the right.
Edinburgh looked the more threatening going into the final quarter and Laidlaw created the opening which sent Stuart McInally racing through to score 15 minutes from time, with Laidlaw’s conversion making it 24-16.
But once more Connacht responded and they set up a gripping finish with a fleeting move from right to left which finished with Danie Poolman sliding over in the left corner.
Parks landed the touchline conversion to leave just a point between them going into the final ten minutes, but Connacht just could not conjure a winning score. Parks went so close with his late drop goal effort from just outside the 22 as Edinburgh survived a hectic finish to head back into their faltering Heineken Cup campaign against Racing Metro on the back of two hard-earned victories.
“We have lost matches this year which we never should have lost and this was probably a match we could have lost too,” added Bradley. “We had a very strong side out there and we didn’t play like a side that has a lot of top players, so we have got a bit of work to do there for sure.”
Scorers: Connacht: Tries: Harris-Wright, Poolman. Cons: Parks (2). Pens: Parks (3). Edinburgh: Tries: Visser, Scott, McInally. Cons: Laidlaw (3). Pens: Laidlaw.
Connacht: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, D Poolman, D McSharry, G Duffy; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, R Loughney; M Kearney, A Browne; J O’Connor, W Faloon, E McKeon. Replacements: F Vainikolo for Duffy 23; D Buckley for Wilkinson 54; P O’Donohoe for Marmion, 58; JP Cooney for Loughney, 66; D Qualter for O’Connor, 71.
Edinburgh: G Tonks; T Brown, N De Luca, M Scott, T Visser; G Laidlaw, R Rees; A Jacobsen, A Titterrell, W Nel; P Parker, S Cox; D Denton, R Grant, S McInally. Replacements: J Yapp for Jacobsen 50; I Van Der Westhuizen for Parker, 50; C Leck for Rees, 59.