It proved to be a fruitless return home for Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley to the Sportsground in Galway where he was in charge for seven seasons as his former charges Connacht secured their first RaboDirect PRO12 win since September.
And to rub salt in the wound of the 26-13 defeat the side coached by his good friend and former Ireland half-back partner Eric Elwood conjured up a late try to ensure there wasn’t even the consolation of a bonus point for Edinburgh.
But Bradley said afterwards he had no complaints about the outcome as his side, without nine internationals, just did not do enough to secure the win.
“We had good passages but we never gave ourselves a platform to win the match. Connacht have been playing well all season and while they have not always got the results to match the performances, they deserved their victory,” said Bradley. “We just did not perform consistently enough to secure the result.”
The recent improvement shown by Elwood’s men continued in good conditions at the Sportsground as they recovered from a slow start to gain revenge on an Edinburgh who turned them over earlier this season in Murrayfield.
The venue is notorious for the appalling weather that comes in from the Atlantic but both sides enjoyed a calm evening for a change and there were some good passages of rugby.
Edinburgh dominated the early exchanges but they were unable to trouble the home defence, with Gregor Hunter missing a penalty from outside the 22. The home try line was rarely threatened despite Edinburgh trying to get the ball wide as often as possible.
But the Connacht pack got on top and took control. Niall O’Connor edged them in front after 21 minutes with a penalty from 42 metres after Edinburgh were penalised for offside and that settled the home side who drew last week with Glasgow.
Elwood said they were fortunate to get a draw last week but this was a much improved performance from his men and they grew in confidence as the game progressed.
The dominant Connacht pack won ball off an Edinburgh scrum on the visitors’ 22 and from the turnover Tongan international Fetu Vainokolo got over for his first try since joining Connacht this season.
Niall O’Connor added the conversion into the wind to make it 10-0 at the interval.
Connacht seemed poised for an easy win when O’Connor extended their lead to 13-0 with a 48th minute penalty from 45 metres.
But Edinburgh hit back with Tim Visser finishing off a good move for his 15th try of the season and while O’Connor extended Connacht’s lead, Edinburgh again responded with Chris Paterson crossing after 55 minutes.
Phil Godman reduced the deficit to 16-13 with a 61st-minute penalty and the game hung in the balance at that stage.
Connacht’s confidence has been hit by letting winning hands slip several times this season but it was Edinburgh who were forced on the back foot on this occasion by the fired-up home side. And it was Connacht who seized the initiative and with John Muldoon and Michael Swift superb, they sealed the win.
Matthew Jarvis landed a penalty 12 minutes from time to put further daylight between them.
Yet, Edinburgh always looked dangerous on the counter-attack but they just could not get the numbers forward to make an impact. And it was Elwood’s men who wrapped up the issue and left the Scots without even a losing bonus point.
It has been an historic season for Connacht with qualification for the Heineken Cup for the first time, and they will now look to push on and finish their league campaign on a high, jumping above Edinburgh in the table thanks to this result.
Connacht piled on the pressure in the closing minutes and were rewarded when Mike McCarthy crashed over in the right corner for a fine try.
Jarvis added the conversion for good measure from the right touchline to see them run out winners by double scores.
Elwood said afterwards he wants Connacht to finish the campaign on a high and was thrilled with the win over his long-time friend.
“This win will give momentum. We head to Scarlets next week but we will go there with some confidence now after this win,” said Elwood.
The return of the internationals can’t come quick enough for Edinburgh, especially as they will have so little time to prepare for the Heineken Cup quarter-final, but they couldn’t complain about the outcome on this occasion in Galway.
Scorers: Connacht: Tries: Vainokolo, McCarthy. Conversions: O’Connor, Jarvis. Penalties: O’Connor (3), Jarvis. Edinburgh: Tries: Visser, Paterson. Pen: Godman.
Connacht: G Duffy; F Vainikolo, K Tonetti, H Fa’afili (E Griffin, 53), T O’Halloran; N O’Connor (M Jarvis, 56), F Murphy; D Buckley (B Wilkinson, 54), A Flavin (E Reynecke, 61), R Loughney (S Maguire, 76); M Swift, M McCarthy; J Muldoon, E Grace (R Ofisa, 50), G Naoupu.
Edinburgh: C Paterson (D Fife, 73); T Brown, J Thompson, M Scott, T Visser; G Hunter (P Godman, 40), C Leck; K Traynor, A Kelly, J Gilding (U Gamboa, 60); G Gilchrist, S Cox (E Lozada, 71); S McInally, R Grant, N Talei.
Referee: C Damasco (Italy).