ALAN Solomons may have seen this one coming. But let’s be honest, no-one else did.
After just one win in the league so far, Edinburgh might have preferred a gentler introduction to the Heineken Cup than a visit by former winners Munster, who had already beaten them this season. Yet Solomons’ squad stunned the Irish team with a combination of character and no little skill.
When Edinburgh raced into a 10-0 lead, it was an encouraging start but little more. When they hit back after a Munster recovery to go into the break 19-17 ahead, it was certainly a sign of improvement on recent outings – but perhaps no more than that. Then, when almost half an hour of the second half passed with no further score for the home team and two penalties for Munster, that was it, we thought. Normal service resumed. A decent fight and an honourable defeat.
How wrong we were. When Munster replacement JJ Hanrahan chipped ahead from within his own half, Grant Gilchrist gathered and almost immediately sent a long, curving ball out to Tim Visser on the left wing. The Dutchman did the rest, outstripping the defence to score his team’s second try of the match.
Greig Laidlaw converted, added a penalty minutes later, and also had the luxury of seeing another award come back off the bar with time almost up. Munster had one play after that in which they mounted a concerted attack, but by that time it would have been a travesty had they won. A knock-on in midfield ended the move and the match, and finally put paid to the presumption that Edinburgh would have to learn how to be plucky losers before they could become deserved winners.
Gilchrist was outstanding in the second row, flankers Dimitri Basilaia and Cornell du Preez also had fine games, and the pack as a whole performed particularly well in the scrum. In fact, it was an impressive all-round team effort, but two men nonetheless provided the leadership without which the outcome might well have been different: Matt Scott and Laidlaw.
Making his first start since the summer following injury, Scott was immense from the opening minutes onwards. He broke the Munster line twice in his team’s first sustained attack, and then, after Jack Cuthbert had gone close on the right, claimed the opening points with a try on the right after Edinburgh had made the overlap.
Laidlaw converted, soon had a penalty to his name as well, and went on to score 19 points, taking his total in an Edinburgh jersey to over 500. That contribution with the boot was clearly crucial, but the scrum-half’s calm decision-making was also vital, as were some timely scrambled interventions in defence.
Ian Keatley got Munster off the mark with a penalty after quarter of an hour, and five minutes later Casey Laulala grabbed a try after a Donnacha Ryan chargedown. Keatley’s conversion drew the teams level at ten apiece, but a penalty from Laidlaw soon edged Edinburgh in front again.
Then came the first serious test of the home team’s self-belief. They defended far too passively after Munster were awarded a free-kick, and after three phases hooker Mike Sherry forced his way over. Keatley’s conversion stretched the lead to four points, and Munster were in the ascendant – only for two Laidlaw penalties to restore Edinburgh’s advantage before the break.
The third quarter belonged almost entirely to Munster, and at times Edinburgh could do little but soak up the pressure. At this stage of proceedings the Munster pack of old would have choked the life out of their opponents, taking a tighter and tighter grip on the game before applying the coup de grace. But this is not the Munster pack of old, and they had nothing to show for their dominance but two more Keatley penalties, one in the 53rd minute and the other ten minutes later.
That still left Edinburgh behind and with a problem on their hands. Since Scott’s early score they had barely threatened the Munster line, but needed to do so soon if they were to emerge with anything more than a losing bonus point.
At least they were still asking questions of the Munster defence, and Hanrahan’s chip ahead proved to be the wrong answer. A long kick would have been the safe option, and that is what Scott expected when he leapt in to attempt a chargedown.
The Edinburgh centre made some contact with Hanrahan, prompting appeals for obstruction which became all the louder when Visser touched down seconds later. That produced an anxious wait as the officials reviewed both the Scott incident and the possibility that the Gilchrist pass had been forward, but the correct decision was made, the score stood, and a stirring victory was in sight.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Scott, Visser. Cons: Laidlaw (2). Pens: Laidlaw (5). Munster: Tries: Laulau, Sherry. Cons: Keatley (2). Pens: Keatley (3).
Edinburgh: Cuthbert; Fife, De Luca, Scott, Visser; Leonard, Laidlaw; Dickinson (Blaauw 70 min), Ford, Nel (Cross 70 min), Cilchrist, Cox, Basilaia (Grant 61 min), Du Preez, Denton.
Munster: Jones (Hanrahan 67 min); Earls, Laulala, Downey (Hurley 61 min), Zebo; Keatley, Murray; Kilcoyne (Cronin 50 min), Sherry (Varley 58 min), Archer (Botha 50 min), Ryan, O’Connell, Butler (Stander 50 min), Ronan (O’Callaghan 65 min), Coughlan.