After an agonising final ten minutes, which saw a fifth European Challenge Cup victory slip through their hands, Edinburgh left Lyon on Saturday night with a sense of disappointment and a solitary bonus point for their pains.
Despite losing this nail-biting encounter to the unfancied Lyon, the hard-won bonus point may nevertheless still prove crucial to Edinburgh, as it puts them one point ahead of another French outfit, Bordeaux-Bègles, on the points table.
And with a place in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals at stake, they will now need to beat the men from Bordeaux at Murrayfield on Friday evening to qualify for a place in the knock-out stage of the competition.
Edinburgh could have made life easier for themselves by simply ensuring a win at Lyon on Saturday night. But a combination of an unexpectedly spirited challenge from the locals, and a nightmare journey to France on the eve of the game nudged the contest out of their reach.
“We’re disappointed because, despite being off our game and making too many mistakes, we still felt this was a game we should have won,” said Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons.
Edinburgh got off to a flying start, leading 8-0 after eight minutes, thanks a penalty by Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and a try by Tim Visser in the left-hand corner. The Scots even increased their lead to 13-3 after an opportunist try from right winger Dougie Fife, following some superb counter-rucking by Dave Denton and a finely-judged kick to space by Jack Cuthbert.
With second row Ben Toolis wreaking havoc in the tight, and the loose trio of Denton, Roddy Grant and skipper Mike Coman gaining the upper hand at the breakdown, Edinburgh were in charge after 30 minutes.
Welsh referee Neil Hennessy – who earlier missed the fact that Fife was at least two metres in front of the kicker before scoring his try – was quick to warn the Scots of repeated infringing at the breakdown. The warning went unheeded and the yellow card to Matt Scott on 32 minutes was a turning point. Lyon took full advantage of the extra man to put fullback Romain Loursac in for a try, converted by Lachie Munro, just before half-time.
“We made a good start to lead by ten points, but we were penalised at the breakdown too many times,” said Solomons. “Discipline let us down. If we had gone to the changing rooms at 13-3 instead of 13-10, the second half could have been far different.”
Hidalgo-Clyne added some extra breathing space with a penalty after the break, but Lyon came storming back with a try by hooker Damian Fitzgerald, after Cuthbert failed to take a high ball in front of his posts.
The Lyon kicker Munro missed an easy conversion and Edinburgh still retained a one-point lead, at 16-15, with 25 minutes to play.
The final quarter was an intense arm-struggle, in which the lead changed hands three times, and the visitors’ fitness faded. Firstly, star goal-kicker Jérôme Porical, who had only missed one of his 21 previous attempts in the Challenge Cup, came on for Munro in the 63rd and, only two minutes later, was handed a penalty from 45 metres out. He made no mistake, and Lyon took the lead for the first time.
Hidlago-Clyne replied with his third to make it 19-18 with ten minutes to play. But Lyon lifted their intensity and, after a prolonged period in the Edinburgh 22, their skipper Fabrice Estebanez kicked the deciding drop-goal with four minutes left.
In many ways, this encounter was a reminder of the difficulties inherent, especially for travelling teams, in both the Challenge and the Champions Cup. Lyon certainly is not as remote as Bucharest, but it still took the visitors over nine hours to get there from Edinburgh on Friday. The resulting fatigue no doubt took a toll near the end.
With just a short turn-around before the winner-takes-all showdown on Friday evening, Solomons will clearly be anxious to preserve his players this week.
“We have a lot of respect for Bordeaux, we know they like to play attractive running rugby,” he added. “But we know if we are to qualify, we have a match to win at Murrayfield on Friday.”