Edinburgh slumped to a third straight Heieneken Cup defeat as Racing Metro kept their European hopes alive with a hard fought victory in Paris.
Scorers: Racing Metro - Tries: Imhoff, Ben Arous; Pens: Barkley (2), Machenau. Edinburgh - Pens: Laidlaw (3)
Having failed to score a solitary point in 160 minutes of Heineken rugby so far this season this match was just two minutes old when Greig Laidlaw finally got Edinburgh off the mark with an early penalty in Stade Yves du Manoir in Paris.
The memory of twin victories over the same opposition last season must feel like a long lost dream for Edinburgh but they dug in and made a game of it yesterday with the result in doubt until the final quarter.
If the capital club weren’t out of European contention before this match, as coach Michael Bradley insisted, they are now but at least Edinburgh rekindled a flicker of the fire that powered them to last year’s semi-final.
After the twin thrillers of last season this was mundane stuff by comparison but Racing did enough overall to win, bossing the territory and always looking the more dangerous of the two teams with the ball in hand. Only some good scramble defence from Edinburgh kept the score respectable in the first 40 but Bradley’s team dug deep in the second half and might have snatched an unlikely victory with a little more incision and belief.
After offering Saracens and Munster the run of the field Edinburgh’s defence restricted Racing to just two tries, one in each half.
Argentine winger Juan Imhoff scored in the first half after scrumhalf Sebastien Descons skipped past any number of black shirts from an attacking lineout to get his side on to the offensive. The Pumas’ quick man stepped inside Tom Brown far too easily, and it proved a bad evening all round for the Edinburgh winger who was carted from the field in the second half after damaging his knee in a tackle.
Imhoff’s early try was followed up by another from replacement prop Eddy Ben Arous, who was driven over in a maul in the second half after Racing had spent the previous five minutes throwing the kitchen sink at the Edinburgh line with nothing to show for it. Former Bath stand-off Olly Barkley added a brace of penalties.
Laidlaw kicked three penalties in total and had the halfback been on song with another three wayward attempts the final result might have looked a little different. His third penalty in the final quarter brought the score to 16-9 but, just when it looked like Edinburgh might walk away with a losing bonus point, Maxime Machenaud stroked over Racing’s third kick to take away even that small consolation.
Once again Ross Ford had trouble at the sidelines with a couple of wayward throws and the Edinburgh front row found themselves up against it, with the hosts winning a turnover on the visitors’ first scrum at the start of each half. WP Nel was thrown into the action when the second half was just minutes old and the South African prop anchored the Scots’ scrum admirably and won a clever turnover into the bargain. In fact Nel even earned Edinburgh a scrum penalty in the second half, not that the Parisian crowd agreed with the referee’s decision, and Edinburgh were threatening to dominate when Allan Jacobsen joined him in harness late on.
Edinburgh showed good spirit, especially in defence. David Denton put himself about on the ground where he scored that famous try last season and he even showed some soft hands with one magical offload out of contact. Richie Rees’s service was no better than usual but the Welsh scrum-half did make one superb break early on and only a lack of support prevented a try from the visitors. Sean Cox made a vital turnover in the shadow of his own posts and if Tim Visser could have held on to one early pass the Dutchman might have added to the dozen tries he has scored so far this season.
If the first half was fairly turgid prose there were moments of poetry on offer after the break, when Edinburgh decided to throw caution to the winds and they upped the pace and intensity of their game. If they were going to lose, as looked likely, at least they weren’t going to sleepwalk over the cliff.
Greig Tonks came into the line with good effect, Denton, Stuart McInally and Grant Gilchrist especially showed up well in the loose, Laidlaw probed and prodded at ten and then nine but the Edinburgh backs were too lateral in their lines of run to seriously trouble the Racing defence. Sooner or later someone in black would spill a pass or get turned over and it was back to square one: simply too many mistakes, which the SRU might adopt as its new motto so often is the mantra repeated.
Edinburgh stand-off Piers Francis was brought on for the final 30 minutes, with Laidlaw moving to scrum-half, and if the recent signing failed to shine at least his new club were competitive.
It was a long way short of the heights Edinburgh reached last year but still a big improvement on their last Heineken outing.