THERE was a minor earthquake reported at Murrayfield yesterday as the tectonic plates of European rugby shifted noticeably with Edinburgh’s heroic win over the four-time European champions.
The cheers at full time were probably reported as an aftershock as the Edinburgh players hugged each other, exulting in the warm glow of knowing they had trumped the odds, the disbelievers and the European greats from the South of France all in one 80-minute match. In doing so they became the first Scottish club to reach the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup – just the fillip our game needed after the disappointment of the Six Nations.
This match had just about everything: a big vociferous crowd, two committed teams and an equal dose of quality and controversy with referee Nigel Owens flashing three yellow cards in total, which had a huge impact on events. Just about the only thing missing was Toulouse, who failed to turn up on the day.
The visitors lost this in the one area that they hoped and expected to win it – the set piece – and it is credit to Edinburgh’s forward pack that, far from wilting under the onslaught, they grew in confidence as the match progressed and dominated their outsized opposition. On at least three occasions the referee penalised the visitors at a set scrum and, when they lost William Servat to the sin bin in the second half, Michael Bradley’s side were the dominant force.
Toulouse also failed to deal with a succession of bombs that Greig Laidlaw sent their way. Almost everyone in the Toulouse backline was guilty and this failure led directly to Edinburgh’s first try and to a second-half penalty for Laidlaw. The fact that their regular full-back Clement Poitrenaud only came off the substitutes’ bench late in the day looks in retrospect a tactical error by coach Guy Noves.
Edinburgh got a dream start with veteran Mike Blair touching down one minute and 32 seconds into the game. Laidlaw went to the air and Toulouse winger Timoci Matanavou failed to collect the high ball which bounced kindly for Blair. Owens went upstairs but there was little doubt about the try and the crowd greeted the TMO’s decision as if the match was won.
Toulouse edged their way back into contention thanks to the boot of fly-half Lionel Beauxis, who kicked three penalties, the third of which came after Ross Rennie was yellow-carded in the shadow of his own posts. The flanker joined Allan Jacobsen in the sin bin since the popular prop was already doing “time” for sticking out an arm and obstructing Matanavou who had taken a quick tap penalty.
After two cards it was to Edinburgh’s great credit that they only leaked eight points while reduced to 13 or 14 men and, thanks to a snap drop goal by Laidlaw, they even got three of them back.
With two Edinburgh players watching events from the sidelines, Matanavou latched on to a clearance kick from Blair and showed everyone a clean pair of heels on his way to the line. It was a rare defensive lapse by the home side who consistently put their bodies on the line. Perhaps Owens was feeling guilty about the cards because everything else the referee called went Edinburgh’s way and he evened things up a little more by carding Servat in the second half. Yannick Jauzion is a class act in the midfield but pressed into service at full-back he spilled another bomb, Rennie hacked ahead and when Sean Cox threw out a back flip the retreating Toulouse hooker William Servat could not stop himself from reaching out and grabbing the ball from a hopelessly offside position.
Along with three precious points, Servat’s yellow gave the home side a huge boost in confidence with the home scrum utterly dominant in the absence of the classy French hooker. Laidlaw kicked three second-half penalties while Toulouse failed to add to their half-time score, which shows which way the wind was blowing.
With his team tightening their grip on proceedings, Laidlaw kicked the penalty from Servat’s mistake before adding another three from a scrum penalty to give his side a precious two-point lead as the match entered the final quarter.
There were chances for Tim Visser on the left wing to extend Edinburgh’s lead only for the big Dutchman to lose his footing at the crucial time. In the end it mattered not, with Laidlaw calmly slotting his third penalty of the day with the very last kick of the match to send the crowd delirious with joy.
Edinburgh will now play the winner of today’s match between Munster and Ulster. It’s just a pity that the semi-final will take place in Dublin’s Aviva stadium because after this result, no side would have fancied a trip to Murrayfield.