Edinburgh began to climb the RaboDirect Pro12 ladder thanks to a workmanlike display that turned into a runaway win with two late tries that delivered an unexpected bonus point – and a final scoreline that was harsh on Connacht.
Scorers: Edinburgh – Tries: Fife, Du Preez, De Luca, Nel. Cons: Laidlaw (4). Pens: Laidlaw (5). Connacht – Try: Henshaw. Con: Parks. Drop: Parks:
The Irish side started well and established a narrow lead in the early stages but imploded by the end as Edinburgh, without ever being wholly convincing, added 27 unanswered points.
Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons admitted his side had been sloppy at times, but praised their determination.
“We were not as composed as we might have been but we held them off and came back and the resolve we showed was important to me,” he said. “I was particularly pleased to see the two late tries that gave us the bonus point. With every victory you build confidence and develop as a team and Edinburgh is still in its infancy as a team.”
Solomons’ injury-plagued side was boosted by flanker Ross Rennie starting in the back row for the first time since March, joining returning Scottish internationalists Nick de Luca, Greig Laidlaw, Alasdair Dickinson and David Denton to beef up a team that lost to Ulster in Belfast last weekend after winning three straight home matches.
Bottom of the league Connacht made six changes to the team beaten by the Scarlets, including the return at full-back of Irish international Robbie Henshaw and the club’s record try scorer on the wing, Fionn Carr. Ex-Scotland stand-off Dan Parks also returned to familiar territory at Murrayfield, and it was Parks who kicked the Irishmen to within five metres in the first minute.
A clean lineout take by captain Craig Clarke set up a couple of forward drives but the visitors were held up as they powered their way over the line. Eventually Edinburgh relieved the pressure and when Connacht were ruled offside just outside their own 22 Laidlaw banged over the penalty to open the scoring.
Connacht continued to dominate territory and possession to allow Parks to respond within minutes with an almost casual drop goal from 30 metres out. Henshaw then went in for the first try in the left corner despite a tremendous cover tackle by Denton that just failed to prevent the final pass being off-loaded. Parks converted.
Edinburgh were struggling to make any impression but skipper Laidlaw took his chance with a 40-metre penalty for going in at the side at a ruck. Jack Cuthbert made progress up the left wing and Rennie’s angled run was stopped on the line.
Cuthbert again carried the ball deep into the 22 and Laidlaw accepted the gift of a third penalty right beside the posts to bring Edinburgh within a point on the half-hour.
Slick Connacht handling saw them reach the other end of the pitch where only a last-gasp tap on lock Mick Kearney by Cornell du Preez prevented a second try. Edinburgh’s luck held when a Parks penalty attempt from 25 metres came back off the post, triggering a late flurry that had the home side taking quick tap penalties in the opposition 22 and retaining possession until Ben Atiga’s inside pass created just enough space for Dougie Fife to squeeze through for the try. Laidlaw’s conversion put Edinburgh 16-10 to the good.
Connacht started the second half strongly and Henshaw looked as if he would outpace the whole defence before being halted metres from the line. Edinburgh slowly battled their way to the other end and Fife was dragged down just short of the Connacht line, but the territory gain resulted in Laidlaw’s fourth penalty of the night.
Connacht replaced their front row and would have replied immediately with a second penalty but a Parks kick from 25 metres hit the post again. He was replaced minutes later and when the visitors were penalised for not rolling away at the ruck, Laidlaw kicked his fifth penalty to stretch the lead to 12 points.
Edinburgh’s defence proved sound before Connacht were hit by a sudden surge with both wingers Fife and Cuthbert taking the ball forward until there were no tacklers left to stop Du Preez claiming the try, guaranteeing the win and earning him the man-of-the-match award.
Laidlaw’s conversion staggered over the bar and all threat from Connacht was snuffed out with five minutes still to go. With the pressure off, Edinburgh finally began to enjoy themselves and De Luca’s interception provided a third try before Willem Nel ran in from 20 metres for a fourth and the bonus point. Laidlaw, needless to say, converted both for a perfect record of nine kicks from nine.
Edinburgh: G Tonks, D Fife, N De Luca, B Atiga, J Cuthbert, H Leonard, G Laidlaw, A Dickinson, A Lutui, WP Nel, O Atkins, I van der Westhuizen, C Du Preez, R Rennie, D Denton. Replacements: J Hilterbrand, W Blaauw (for Dickinson 65), G Cross, S Cox (for Atkins 52), R Grant, S Hidalgo-Clyne (for Rennie 56), S Beard (for Atiga 67), T Brown.
Connacht: R Henshaw, F Carr, E Griffin, D McSharry, M Healey, D Parks, K Marmion, R Loughney, S Henry, H White, M Kearney, C Clarke, A Muldowney, J Heenan, E McKean. Replacements: J Harris-Wright (for Loughney 49), D Buckley (for Henry 49), R Ah You (for White 49), M Swift (for Heenan 69), J Muldoon (for Muldowney 60), F Murphy (for Marmion 65), C Ronaldson (for Parks 56), G Duffy (for Henshaw 63).