EDINBURGH fans have waited 19 long years for the sight of any silverware and they will need to wait at least one more after their team lost their first European final yesterday evening at the Stoop.
Gloucester were worthy winners of the Challenge Cup, they played more rugby, were far more physical and had a couple of aces up their sleeves in the form of twin flyers Jonny May and Charlie Sharples, who caused havoc all night.
Ross Ford’s late try inside the final quarter brought Edinburgh to within six points and, combined with the red card shown to Gloucester’s centre Bill Meakes on 64 minutes, it gave Alan Solomons’ side hope that they might pull this one from the fire.
Chants of “Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Edinburgh” rang around the little ground and the team went back to the future, throwing the ball about with great attacking verve but they have lost that cutting edge of old. Gloucester ran the clock down and finished the game deserving winners.
Edinburgh failed to come to terms with the sheer physicality of this Gloucester team, who hustled and bustled their opponents all evening. Edinburgh grew in stature as this game progressed and fought a brave rearguard action in the first half with Anton Bresler in the sin bin but they had already given Gloucester a handy seven-point lead and, for all their huff and puff, they managed just one try against an opposition who played much of the second half with 14 men. Edinburgh fell off far too many tackles and Greig Laidlaw’s boot did the rest, with five from six off the tee.
The scrums were a lottery all night. Gloucester won a turnover at the first one when former All Black John Afoa had Alasdair Dickinson in trouble. The same scrum was re-set with a Gloucester put-in and the roles were reversed, Dickinson winning a penalty. As the match progressed, the Edinburgh loosehead seemed to get the upper hand but never enough to change the course of this game.
The two place kickers swapped early penalties with Sam Hidalgo-Clyne opening the account in the second minute and Laidlaw following his lead six minutes later.
The difference in style between these two teams was apparent from the off. Gloucester were happy to give the ball width, so keen to get it wide that two early passes went straight to touch missing the intended recipient altogether but the intent was there. Edinburgh were happy to kick the ball down the field and trust their defence, which proved their first mistake.
If Edinburgh were not aware of the pace at Gloucester’s disposal, they got an early reminder when full-back Sharples sliced them wide open running back a loose kick and only a desperate tap tackle by Cornell du Preez keep the try line intact. It didn’t stay that way for long.
With 11 minutes of this match gone, Gloucester captain Billy Twelvetrees came up with the opening try, although he had May to thank for it. The right winger popped up in the midfield where he rode Andries Strauss’ tackle far too easily and one inside ball sent his skipper racing under the posts. Laidlaw couldn’t miss the conversion and Gloucester had an early 10-3 lead.
Edinburgh appeared to be taken aback by the physicality of the English club, who drew whoops of delights from their many fans in the ground for their early aggression. Against such a physical onslaught,
Edinburgh’s only exit from their own half was to kick the ball downfield but Gloucester were a little smarter in this department too. In just one little cameo, Twelvetrees kicked the ball 45 metres into the Edinburgh 22 where it was retrieved by full-back Greig Tonks, who hoofed it five metres back into touch. You do the maths.
With 25 minutes gone, Edinburgh attempted to drive a lineout that went nowhere very fast. They moved the ball wide but Sam Beard lost it in the midfield and May pounced. He scooped the ball up and pinned his lugs back to race for the Edinburgh line. With du Preez the last defender the odds were firmly on the England winger but the Edinburgh eight performed miracles with his second diving tap tackle at full stretch on the same man.
Edinburgh’s problems were only beginning. The first rule of rugby is that if you make a mistake, don’t compound it with another, which is exactly what Bresler did by slowing Gloucester’s ball at the ensuing breakdown and earning a yellow card. Somehow, Edinburgh got out of jail when Gloucester opted for a long series of attacking scrums, only to see Afoa get pinged for not pushing straight.
Edinburgh enjoyed just one sustained attack in the whole half, just before the break, which was sparked by some brilliant footwork by Beard with support by Mike Coman but came to grief a little later when Hidalgo-Clyne passed straight to touch.
At least the little scrum-half was able to kick his second penalty for an offside offence just before the break, although he missed another tricky shot with the last kick of the half. His three points were immediately annulled by Laidlaw’s second penalty straight from the restart. Bresler returned to the fray and Edinburgh were still in a match when they should by rights have been dead and buried.
With just one converted try separating the sides, the first score of the second half looked like an important one and Laidlaw kicked two penalties in quick succession on 50 and 53 minutes to give Gloucester a 19-6 lead and give Edinburgh a mountain to climb.
Phil Burleigh put not one but both restarts straight into touch, which seemed to underline the malaise within the Edinburgh ranks. They were handed a lifeline when Gloucester breakaway Ross Moriarty was carded for sticking a knee in Fraser McKenzie’s back and, a little later, centre Meakes was shown a red card for a high swinging arm on Beard. Finally, with a two-man advantage, Ford managed to elbow his way over the Gloucester line and Hidalgo-Clyne’s conversion made it a six-point game, which is the way it stayed.
Scorers: Edinburgh –Try: Ford. Con: Hidalgo-Clyne. Pens: Burleigh, Hidalgo-Clyne. Gloucester – Try: Twelvetrees. Con: Laidlaw. Pens: Laidlaw (4).
Edinburgh: Tonks; Fife, Beard, Strauss, Visser; Burleigh, Hidalgo-Clyne; Dickinson, Ford, W Nel, Bresler, Toolis, Coman, Grant, Du Preez. Subs: Brown for Tonks (46), McKenzie for Bresler (51), McInally for Coman (61), Watson for Grant (61).
Gloucester: Sharples; May, Meakes, Twelvetrees, Purdy; Hook, Laidlaw; Wood, Hibbard, Afoa, Savage, Palmer, Moriarty, Kvesic, G Evans. Subs: Y Thomas for Wood (48), Dawidiuk for Hibbard (72), Galarza for Palmer (46), Rowan for G Evans (72).