London Irish 18 - 23 Edinburgh: Scots tough it out

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IT MAYBE wasn’t the handsome win Edinburgh fans dearly wanted, but in earning a nail-biting 23-18 result over London Irish, it was the mature and strong-willed win that takes the club into a European Challenge Cup semi-final.

London Irish - 18

Edinburgh - 23

Referee: Pascal Gauzere

For all Edinburgh’s get-up-and-go in the first half, they left it late to ensure a win over a slightly skittish Irish side and when local hooker David Paice was driven over the line in the last play of the match, with Edinburgh bodies under him, hearts threatened to jump out of mouths.

But referee Pascal Gauzere and his television match official could not see a touchdown through the rubble after five minutes’ grace and numerous replays and Edinburgh lived to fight another day, taking this five-point victory into a semi-final at BT Murrayfield against Newport Gwent Dragons.

It looked like it could have been so much more comfortable, with a slumbering Irish shocked from the off by Edinburgh’s zip. The visitors attacked kick-offs and enjoyed quick ruck ball while the hosts infringed and guddled – and it was their team leaders committing the sins at first. Eventual man of the match Sam Hidalgo-Clyne helped himself to a monstrous opening penalty fairly soon after the opening whistle as Irish skipper George Skivington threw a high shot in defence.

Behind early, the Exiles should have consolidated and built phases. Instead, fly-half Shane Geraghty kicked away possession and hoped his breakaways and wings could snaffle it back. Perhaps it was no surprise, then, when Edinburgh again worked into the Irish 22 and kicked to the corner from a penalty. Irish were in disarray from the maul and WP Nel could hardly believe his luck when he sheered off, spun around and found the try-line begging. Tom Guest came offside; Hidalgo-Clyne kicked a penalty. Skivington shoved in the lineout and again Hidalgo-Clyne added three points. It felt like a stilted game and with the Aviva Premiership pack dropping crumbs over the Edinburgh line, leaving passes behind and generally making little of their possession, it looked like the result was a foregone conclusion and the sparky Scottish scrum-half could walk to his third man of the match accolade in as many Edinburgh games.

However, Edinburgh had not been tested past five or six phases. So after Geraghty finally recovered to kick a penalty – registering with his third attempt – and it threatened the game when he was afforded a run at creating some rugby.

Not long after Edinburgh’s defence was stretched at the centres a few phases in and after barrelling hooker Paice led Irish forward, it was try on. Geraghty skipped and slung it, Eamonn Sheridan had a nice inside pass, and as Blair Cowan tried to pretend he wasn’t standing in the way, his back-row partner Conor Gilsenan galloped in for a converted try that made it 10-16 at the break.

Steeled, Irish started the second half much better, and the deficit was just three as Roddy Grant infringed and Geraghty again took the points. Affronted by the fight back, Edinburgh looked momentarily bereft of calm. Irish upped the tempo. Cowan interested defenders, deep. Paice nudged forward. Geraghty chipped. Sub Tom Fowlie caught it and Scott Steele scooped up and jumped in the corner to briefly take the lead with a try.

Last season this Edinburgh side would perhaps have cowered and accepted that the host team were angry and wanted to take their ball back. But instead upstart Hidalgo-Clyne pushed his pack to carry forth. They ground forward and with Grant and co creating quick ball it was worked to Dougie Fife. He stepped inside, pushing towards the line and with Andries Strauss having to dig in and pass it as a makeshift No 9, Fraser McKenzie arrived just in time to slip between defenders like a fiver through a drain and retake the lead with a try.

John Andress was sent to the sin-bin and Irish rebounded and hustled, but it was never enough. They knocked on over the line, only to win another penalty. They pulled everyone into the lineout and fell over themselves and Edinburgh, only to get another penalty. They ran it back again and again, but Paice burped the ball up.

The Irish hooker could have redeemed himself as he carried one more time over the line and over last-ditch defender Alasdair Dickinson. But after numerous replays the officials blew time and gave Edinburgh another uplifting European semi-final to look forward to – and this time it’s a home tie.

Scorers: London Irish: Tries: Gilsenan, Steele. Con: Geraghty. Pens: Geraghty 2. Edinburgh: Tries: Nel, McKenzie. Cons: Hidalgo-Clyne 2. Pens: Hidalgo-Clyne 3

London Irish: Fenby (Fowlie 40); Ojo, Griffin, Sheridan, Lewington; Geraghty, Steele (Allinson 70); Court (Parr 70), Paice, Aulika (Halavatau 50), Skivington, Rouse, Gilsenan, Cowan, Guest (Narraway 70).

Edinburgh: Tonks; Fife, Burleigh, Strauss (Beard 70), Visser; Heathcote (Brown 61), Hidalgo-Clyne; Dickinson (Sutherland 66), Ford (McInally 51), Nel, Bresler (McKenzie 51), Toolis, Grant, Watson, Denton.