Edinburgh scale heights on European stage with baby steps

Edinburgh's Pierre Schoeman takes on Montpellier's defence. Picture: SNS/SRU
Edinburgh's Pierre Schoeman takes on Montpellier's defence. Picture: SNS/SRU
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They did it, thank goodness. Edinburgh kept their heads and their nerve, fighting back from 10-9 down in the second half to take this one by a short head. And they did so thanks to the twin pillars of defence and discipline.

Montpellier actually enjoyed plenty of possession inside the Edinburgh red zone but got little return for all their blood, sweat and tears because Edinburgh kept the penalty count low. At half-time it was 1-7 in favour of the home team although things evened up a little by the final whistle (4-12).

The good sized crowd was nervous at the start, as you’d expect, but the initial signs were mostly positive ones. At one point prop forward WP Nel threw a between-the-legs-pass so there was nothing wrong with his nerves.

Edinburgh milked a scrum penalty with the match no more than six minutes old. Our South African props, it seemed, were better than their South African props and given the disparity in age you’d hope so.

Montpellier’s tighthead Jannie du Plessis has 70 Springboks caps to his name and had achieved pretty much everything the game has to offer including winning the Rugby World Cup in 2007 but at the age of 36 he is no longer a young man.

If he looked up before the set scrum he would have seen something of his younger self in Pierre Schoeman; a hungry young man in a hurry who took him to the cleaners and then apologised for it.

Schoeman milked three scrum penalties against his elder but not necessarily better compatriot and, after the second, the Edinburgh man had the good manners (or just possibly the bad) to help Du Plessis back to his feet. It proved a psychological masterstroke.

At the very next set scrum Du Plessis was hurtled backwards, Edinburgh kicked a three pointer and Du Plessis was removed from the field of play to prevent any further damage.

It seemed to weigh heavily on his brother Bismarck who plays hooker and took his frustrations out on an Edinburgh water boy on the sidelines who was guilty of nothing obvious. The crowd thereafter treated him as the pantomime villain of the piece.

Thankfully the Du Plessis honour was saved with a try for Jacques du Plessis (no relation) on the stroke of half-time which threw his side a lifeline.

The visitors packed a punch up front and, just occasionally, their brute power caused Edinburgh problems. The home team tackled around the boot laces but every so often one was missed and the crowd held their breath while the scramble plugged the gaps.

More worrying for Edinburgh was that they lost their scrum dominance in the second half when Levan Tcheisvili offered a far greater test to both Schoeman and the poor match commentator. One scrum penalty led directly to another straight arm and Ruan Pienaar grabbed the lead on 47 minutes at which point Edinburgh started to play some rugby.

Having been content to inch forward Edinburgh took a leaf from the Glasgow playbook and used the full width of the field to tire the big Montpellier pack.

It seemed to work because there were half a dozen white shirts on the Murrayfield turf when Darcy Graham scored the decisive try on the hour after the forwards drained the Montpellier defence of any remaining puff.