THE honeymoon ended abruptly for Edinburgh’s new coaches as the team failed to find the consistency needed to claim a hat-trick of victories and ease away from the foot of the RaboDirect Pro12 table.
Edinburgh: Pens - Laidlaw (8)
Connacht: Tries - Kearney, Henshaw; Pens - Parks (4), Duffy; Cons - Parks (2); Drop goal - Parks
Referee: R Thomas
Instead Connacht rise above them after hitting them with two tries while former Scotland stand-off Dan Parks came off best in the kicking contest despite the ever reliable Greig Laidlaw providing all of Edinburgh’s points through eight penalties. It wasn’t enough. It was the first defeat since interim coaches Stevie Scott and Duncan Hodge replaced Mike Bradley.
There are now two matches remaining for Edinburgh this season – away to Treviso next week, and finally at home against the beleaguered Dragons next month – and the coaches have the opportunity to restore some of the feelgood factor but the reality is that there is nothing left to play for this season except pride and future statistics.
Connacht were at one stage ready to curse their luck as Edinburgh kept nudging their noses in front but dogged persistence eventually paid off with a late try that snatched the win.
The game got underway with a familiar sight at Murrayfield, Parks in the unfamiliar livery of Connacht firing the Irish side into an early lead with a penalty right in front of the posts. But within two minutes Laidlaw had returned the compliment from virtually the same spot at the other end of the pitch.
Edinburgh full-back Greig Tonks had to be replaced by Tom Brown after 13 minutes, just before his team went into the lead for the first time with a second Laidlaw penalty awarded when a set scrum went awry and the visitors got the blame.
Edinburgh were gradually piling on the pressure and after a half break by winger Tim Visser Laidlaw landed his third penalty after hands went into the ruck. The fourth came just before the half hour from 40 metres out.
Edinburgh looked to be building a comfortable lead but in an instant Connacht turned the game around when a missed tackle by Laidlaw allowed winger Gavin Duffy to find enough space to be able to feed flanker Mick Kearney for the try, running in unopposed from 25 metres. Parks made the conversion but then got himself sin-binned for deliberately slapping down a pass in front of his own posts. Laidlaw claimed the points.
Connacht got into the red zone again and won a penalty when Edinburgh did not release. With Parks off the field, skipper Duffy assumed the responsibility and did not disappoint to make the half-time score 15-13.
The third quarter began explosively with Edinburgh centre Matt Scott barrelling through several missed tackles to carry the ball towards the Connacht line. When quick ball was prevented, Laidlaw stepped up for the penalty but this time it slid wide and suddenly Connacht were throwing in at a lineout in Edinburgh’s 22 and then hammering away at the line with phase after phase of possession. The home defence didn’t crack but Parks, just back on the field, was able to put Connacht ahead with a third penalty. Minutes later he extended the lead to four points with another penalty for not releasing in the tackle.
The crowd were getting restless but Laidlaw quickly reduced the margin to a single point with a sixth penalty that also saw Connacht’s tighthead Ronan Loughney sent to the bin.
Edinburgh opened it out against 14 men, taking the ball to the wings and increasing the pace but it was through the forwards they were making the most damage. Geoff Cross pumping his legs to get over the line in a bunch of players that held him up. Edinburgh went for the pushover at the scrum and when it was collapsed Laidlaw’s seventh penalty put them ahead once more.
But being ahead did not translate into being in control, and Connacht steadily gained territory by retaining possession until they were able to set up Parks for a drop goal that restored their advantage.
Edinburgh refused to panic. They came roaring back and winger Lee Jones was stopped inches short on the right. When the ball went across the pitch Visser was scythed down just as he was about to get into his stride. The penalty came inevitably when Connacht went offside and Laidlaw kicked the points.
A minute later at the other end Parks lined up a Connacht penalty but hooked it across the face of the posts. With five minutes to go and only two points separating the teams it was anybody’s game with any mistake likely to tilt the balance. And it was Edinburgh who made the mistake. Brown let a bouncing ball run through his legs, Connacht scrum-half Keiran Marmion got a boot to it and full-back Robbie Henshaw was the first to it as it rolled over the line. Parks converted and the game was won and lost even before he added another late penalty.
Edinburgh: G Tonks, L Jones, M Scott, B Atiga, T Visser, P Francis, G Laidlaw, A Jacobsen, R Ford, G Cross, G Gilchrist, S Cox, S McInallym H Watson, N Talei. Subs: S Lawrie, R Hislop, J Yapp (for Cross 72), P Parker, R McAlpine, S kennedy, H Leonard (for Francis 54), T Brown (for Tonks 13).
Connacht: PP Henshaw, D Poolman, E Griffin, B Murphy, G Duffy, D Parks, K Marmion, B Wilkinson, A Flavin, P Loughney, M Swift, M McCarthy, M Kearney, J Muldoon, J Naoupu. Subs: E Reynecke (for Flavin 53), R Ah You (for Wilkinson 65), JP Cooney, A Browne (for Kearney 69), M Fifita (for Muldoon 71), P O’Donohoe, M Nikora, F Vainikolo (for Griffin 59).