Edinburgh 19-14 Toulouse: French humbled as heroic display seals record
OVER 37,000 people came from all over the country and beyond to witness the greatest result in the history of Scottish club rugby and they left in no doubt that Edinburgh deserved to claim Scotland’s first-ever place in the Heineken Cup semi-finals.
It was strangely unreal, Murrayfield a colourful and relaxed festival oasis in the capital city as generations trooped into the national stadium to toast a first quarter-final in Scotland.
They came from everywhere, the old Barbour brigade and the new, but few expected Michael Bradley’s Edinburgh side, second bottom of the RaboDirect PRO12, to overcome the four-times European champions Toulouse, the ‘Barcelona of rugby’, and their French World Cup stars led by skipper and World Player of the Year Thierry Dusautoir.
They were beginning to dream, however, after just one minute and 32 seconds when Mike Blair scored the game’s opening try. Displaying a terrific hunger, forwards Netani Talei, Geoff Cross, Ross Rennie and Grant Gilchrist seized and kept ball from the kick-off, Greig Laidlaw kicked high to Toulouse’s Fijian wing Timoci Matanavou, Matt Scott and David Denton charged to force a spill and the Scotland scrum-half grasped the ball and birled through tackles to touch down on the line.
Man of the match Greig Laidlaw said afterwards: “Matanavou, as much as he is a great runner, is suspect under the high ball. We did our homework. Toulouse don’t always travel well, but we knew that we had to give them a reason to feel uncomfortable here, and the welcome of the amazing crowd and that try was the perfect start.”
Fledgling full-back Tom Brown claimed a high ball superbly and Edinburgh’s pack launched into the big Toulouse strength, the scrummaging of their much heavier French front five, which solidified the foundations.
Tighthead Cross said: “There is a great psychological battle at the start, especially against a team expected to dominate you, to get an edge; meeting that challenge and saying ‘you shall not pass’. I think we did that.”
His opposite number, Census Johnston, concurred, stating: “They did their homework on us. It was more cleverness than power. We wanted to capitalise on our scrum, but a couple of calls didn’t go our way and they got a sniff and put us back. We were surprised. If they keep playing like that they can go a long way.”
It did not all go to plan with Laidlaw over-cooking a kick to touch, the formidable French back row showing their quality at the breakdown and errors allowing Lionel Beauxis, the Toulouse fly-half, to pull the score back to 7-6 with penalties at the end of the first quarter.
Murrayfield then held its breath as Allan Jacobsen and Rennie were shown yellow cards in the 26th and 28th minutes, the prop offside in tackling Matanavou at a quick tap and Rennie depriving Toulouse at a ruck 15 metres from the home posts with some sleight of hand. “I took a gamble,” admitted Jacobsen. “We had chased back from the kick and I wasn’t sure if anyone was behind me, so thought he might have a clear run in so I bumped him.”
Beauxis missed the penalty from Jacobsen’s offence, which is perhaps why he opted to kick from Rennie’s infringement, and put the visitors 9-7 up, rather than exploit the two-forward advantage.
Edinburgh sighed in relief. Wing Tim Visser said: “Going for that penalty instead of scrummaging or keeping the ball in play was a tactical fault. We were struggling, down two men, and if they’d started throwing the ball around they could have had more points. Small margins.”
However, the worst was not over for the hosts as Matanavou ducked into a gap between Ross Ford and Talei, the No8 and Denton were blocked by Yoann Maestri and the Fijian blitzed from halfway past Blair and Tom Brown to score a sublime solo try. Beauxis missed the conversion, and Laidlaw struck a drop-goal to send the teams into half-time just four points apart and Edinburgh hopes rising again.
Toulouse lost veteran hooker William Servat to the bin soon after the restart and Edinburgh took advantage with two Laidlaw penalties, for a 16-14 lead. It was tight, tackles were flying in – Lee Jones’ on Gillian Galan the pick of many that penned the French in - and Toulouse were tiring.
Laidlaw missed a long-range kick and then Jacobsen went off with blood streaming from a battered nose, but when he returned the Edinburgh pack won a scrum penalty and Murrayfield found a new decibel level for the last 15 minutes.
Laidlaw was now partnered by Chris Leck, Blair forced off at half-time with a shoulder injury sustained stopping Dusautoir, but with the pack putting in a storming shift, Leck was impressive as the half-backs varied play astutely to keep Toulouse at arm’s length.
“I really noticed the crowd in the last ten minutes,” said Jones. “When we were getting little decisions and pushing them into touch the crowd really lifted us, and pushed us on for the last ten minutes. To see 37,000 there for a club game was incredible and definitely made a difference.”
Their reward was a penalty with a minute remaining. Laidlaw revealed: “I asked the ref if I could stand for a minute and kick it into touch, but he said ‘no’ so I decided to go for the posts. I still thought about blasting it left and dead, but they are huge dead-ball areas at Murrayfield, and I might not have made it, so I said ‘I’m going for it’ and fortunately for me it sailed through.”
Fortune favours the brave they say. It certainly did here.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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