Christmas came early for Edinburgh as they disposed of a lacklustre Leinster to climb into the top half of the league table one place below Glasgow whom they now face in back to back derbies over the next two weeks.
It was a dour but compelling encounter. Edinburgh’s overall performance wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t really clinical, but it was extremely effective and more than good enough to persuade remaining doubters that Edinburgh are really beginning to gel as a team to be reckoned with at every level.
Edinburgh scored the only try, scarcely missed a tackle, blunted every Leinster attack and held their composure at the end when the pressure was really on and when any mistake could have cost them that well-deserved victory.
Head coach Alan Solomons said: “Leinster are a good side, one of the top teams in Europe, and for us to get a win was an outstanding performance. I think it speaks volumes for the heart, the grit, the commitment and the determination of this side.”
After their Heineken Cup heroics at Gloucester, Edinburgh applied their rotation policy and brought back three Scotland internationals in the shape of scrum-half and skipper Greig Laidlaw, outside centre Nick De Luca and David Denton at the rear of the scrum. Greig Tonks, shifted into stand-off at the last moment last week, retained the No 10 jersey and Alasdair Dickinson was promoted from the bench to start at loosehead.
Leinster shook up the team that was beaten unexpectedly by Northampton in their Heineken pool match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in front of more than 47,000 people, making 11 changes including the entire pack of forwards apart from Shane Jennings at openside.
There were only a few thousand hardy souls rattling round Murrayfield at the kick-off to witness Leinster go into last night’s match as favourites, sitting second top of the RaboDirect Pro12, 14 points ahead of Edinburgh, and keen to put on a performance that would throw off the Northampton hangover.
The Irish side had won the last five contests between the clubs, but Edinburgh were on a wee bit of a roll having won four of their last six games in all competitions and still glowing from the against-the-odds victory in the hostile territory of south-west England that keeps their Heineken hopes alive.
The opening minutes served to confirm how the conditions were going to influence this match. A series of handling errors, some messy line-outs, and the first scrum cutting up the pitch to leave a dark mark like an ugly bruise. But Edinburgh’s forwards gained the early momentum, rolling a maul into the 22 and providing quick ball for the follow-up phases without really troubling the Leinster defence.
The visitors decided the aerial route was the most promising and stand-off Ian Madigan launched a couple of high kicks that Jack Cuthbert dealt with securely, although the tactic kept them in Edinburgh territory and the home players had to put in the tackles to absorb a long spell of pressure. Eventually, the pressure told and when Edinburgh were penalised for not rolling away on their own 22, Madigan landed the three points.
Another high kick was knocked on by Edinburgh winger Dougie Fife and Leinster confined the home side to their own half. But the next big bomb was beautifully held by Cuthbert and he almost released Fife with a smart offload before tacklers closed in.
Leinster seemed to be playing all the rugby and having all the ideas, but the game changed in an instant as Edinburgh lock Ollie Atkins barrelled through some unconvincing tackles to cross the halfway line, Laidlaw found a gap at the edge of the ruck to scamper inside the 22, and the ball was recycled several times before going left as Fife came off his wing to take the pass and carve a path to the line. The conversion attempt drifted wide.
Then Cuthbert tried a speculative high kick and Leinster didn’t deal with it, a clearing kick going out on the full to bring the teams back for a 15-metre lineout that turned into a maul and several rucks before the referee blew for side entry and Laidlaw knocked over the simple penalty to make the half-time score 8-3.
Straight from the restart, Leinster had the chance to reduce the deficit when Edinburgh went off their feet at a ruck. Madigan’s kick curled in perfectly on the wind.
At the other end, Grant Gilchrist stole the ball at a Leinster lineout and the Irishmen were penalised as they tried to retrieve the situation. Laidlaw’s kick from 25 metres out on the left was straight and true.
Edinburgh had the upper hand and Leinster were having difficulty getting out of their own half even with the swirling wind at their backs. The teams exchanged a series of predictable high and long kicks that got them precisely nowhere. Jimmy Goppert replaced Madigan and his first act was to kick the ball out on the full, copied moments later by Laidlaw with an attempted box kick.
But when one of the high kicks bounced awkwardly it landed in his arms and he was off through a crowd of players and putting a grubber diagonally into the corner. Edinburgh won the lineout but Leinster just succeeded in closing the gap as flanker Cornell Du Preez, about to be named man of the match, was about to crash through it.
With less than ten minutes to go, Edinburgh made good ground with some dynamic pick and go, creating field position for a penalty attempt from 40 metres and well to the right of the posts. Laidlaw’s kick scraped the paint but was just outside.
Leinster surged upfield and won a close-range lineout but couldn’t make any progress with the maul and hammered away at the line as the clock ran down until a knock-on gave the advantage back to Edinburgh who protected the ball well at the scrum before booting into touch to seal the win.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Fife. Pens: Laidlaw 2. Leinster: Pens: Madigan 2.
Edinburgh: Cuthbert, Fife, De Luca, Atiga, Brown, Tonks, Laidlaw, Dickinson, Ford, Nel, Gilchrist, Atkins, Du Preez, Grant, Denton. Replacements: Beard for Fife (32), Cox for Atkins (61). Not Used: Lutui, Blaauw, Cross, Coman, Hart, Fenner.
Leinster: Kirchner, Fanning, O’Driscoll, Reid, Fitzgerald, Madigan, Boss, Bent, Dundon, Moore, Cullen, Denton, K. McLaughlin, Jennings, Murphy. Replacements: Macken for Fanning (75), Gopperth for Madigan (61), Furlong for Moore (75), Roux for Denton (65), Ryan for K. McLaughlin (61). Not Used: Tracy, J. O’Connell, Cooney.