Edinburgh’s Heineken Cup revival lasted a mere week as they ran headlong into a second-half maelstrom in Perpignan that swept them aside and left Pool 6 wide open.
Scorers: Perpignan - Tries: Michel, Mjekevu 2, Purll Cons: Hook 4 Pen: Hook; Edinburgh - Tries: Visser, du Preez Cons: Laidlaw 2
With every team having won once in the opening two rounds, the decision on who goes through to the quarter-finals could be determined on the outcome of the back-to-back fixtures in December. Edinburgh have to play Gloucester twice and cannot now afford another slip-up.
The euphoria of the home win over Munster remained throughout a highly positive first half at Stade Aimee Giral, but there was a sea-change in attitude by the home side after the break and they strolled to a bonus point victory to take over at the top of the pool.
“After a good, controlled start, second-half errors in our system changed the course of the game, and from then on we were obviously on the back foot. What we’ll take away from this game is a very good 40 minutes. However, at this level, you are punished for mistakes, and that’s what happened after the break,” said Edinburgh head coach Alan Solomons.
“We need to continue to cut down our individual and system errors, but also to keep composure after an error is made, and when a side scores against us.”
Edinburgh made a positive start and dominated the opening ten minutes. From the moment Roddy Grant smashed Watisoni Votu in the game’s first tackle, there was intent and purpose in all the visitors tried to do.
A driving run by new South African recruit Cornell Du Preez then paved the way for Greig Laidlaw to shoot for goal, but there was to be no dream start as his second-minute kick drifted just wide of the mark. The home side pushed Wales utility player James Hook from full-back to outside half and he was at the heart of a completely revamped back line from that which lost in Gloucester in round one.
What a difference there is in strength in depth at the two clubs, and playing budgets.
The new president at Perpignan has pledged to increase the playing budget by €1.5million for each of the next four years. Not bad when the starting point is €16m.
It was Hook who opened the scoring with an 11th-minute penalty that was only confirmed when TMO Carlo Damasco was called on to judge whether it had gone over the top of the posts or wide.
But Laidlaw’s men continued to look the more creative and incisive and they just missed out on a try when Argentine trialist, centre Joaquin Dominguez, was adjudged to have had a foot pushed into touch as he dived for the line at the left corner. If that showed what the Scottish side were capable off, they provided more evidence just before the break as they hit the front with a delightful try.
The end product was a try by left wing Tim Visser, but the hands in the approach work by full-back Jack Cuthbert (twice), Nick de Luca and Dominguez were a sight to behold. Laidlaw stroked over the conversion and those points would have allowed Solomons to have given a fairly positive team talk at half-time.
But what do you say after losing the second half 28-7? There was no real hint of a second-half romp by the home side, but once they got on a roll they never took their foot off the gas.
Forwards ran like backs and the backs handled like superstars as the ball stuck fast and the tries flowed. Much of the damage was done by the giant wings, Fijian star Watisoni Votu and his South African team mate Wandile Mjekevu.
Where they had been shackled in the first half, they ran riot in the second, with Mjekevu grabbing two of four tries. It was full back Joffrey Michel who put the home side ahead when he crossed in the left corner. A Laidlaw box kick into the home 22 was rather half-heartedly followed up and Mjekevu gathered and broke clear. When he was finally stopped on the Edinburgh 22 the damage had been done and, once the ball had been recycled, there were enough spare hands to send the full-back over.
Hook added the conversion and managed to goal all four tries with some immaculate kicking that might well have reminded Warren Gatland he still has something to offer ahead of next week’s squad announcement by the 6 Nations champions. The next try came two minutes later and was even better than the first. The ball went through no fewer than 12 pairs of hands before Mjekevu was able to walk over almost unopposed.
As the points mounted, so the home coach unloaded his bench and there was a suspicion that his side got stronger as the game went on rather than weaker.
As the hour mark came, so flanker Justin Purll charged over for a third try and it was only appropriate that Mjekevu should get the bonus points try.
Hook kick-passed across his 22 to Mjekevu, who inter-passed with Votu. That left the South African flyer with open ground and he side-stepped inside Greig Tonks before racing the final 50 metres to the line for the final home try.
To their credit, Edinburgh kept on going and the try by Du Preez in the closing minutes was nothing less than they deserved. Unfortunately, it was much too little, too late.
Hook was thrilled with the victory which puts his team in a commanding position in Pool 6.
He said: “Nothing much happened in the first half but we had a bit of a chat at half-time and came back out firing. We had been playing into
Edinburgh’s hands in the first half.
“They were defending close so we just needed to get the ball out wide to our strike runners.
“We did that following the break with Wandile and Watisoni Votu really coming into the game.
“They were outstanding in the second half and the two quick tries really helped us and really swung the momentum. Edinburgh’s heads dropped a bit after that but they kept battling and got a try at the end.”
Perpignan: Michel; Votu, Marty, Piukala, Haughton; Hook, Duvenage; Taumalolo, Guirado, Jgenti, Vahaamahina, R Taofifenua, Purll, Perez, Narraway. Replacements: Mjekevu for Haughton (17), Allan for Hook (65), Durand for Duvenage (55), S. Taofifenua for Taumalolo (54), Terrain for Guirado (17), Pulu for Jgenti (52), Charteris for R. Taofifenua (59), Chateau for Purll (65).
Edinburgh: Cuthbert; Fife, De Luca, Dominquez, Visser; Leonard, Laidlaw; Dickinson, Ford, Nel, Gilchrist, Cox, Leonardi, Grant, Du Preez. Replacements: Tonks for Cuthbert (59), Atkins for Leonard (77), Blaauw for Dickinson (55), Cross for Nel (65), van der Westhuizen for Cox (59). Not used: Lutui, Hidalgo-Clyne, Jones.
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE