Edinburgh’s winning run in the Challenge Cup was brought to an end in Paris last night, but there was some consolation for Richard Cockerill’s side in the knowledge that they will now have a home quarter-final against Cardiff.
As the last day of pool action drew to a close, several of the possible permutations threatened to present Edinburgh with a far tougher task in the last eight. The Welsh team will be no pushovers, but they are a known quantity – and have already lost to the Scots on their own turf this season in the Pro14.
Edinburgh had secured their place in the knockout stages with a dramatic win over Stade at Murrayfield nine days ago, but there seemed little chance of a repeat last night as from the start the holders showed their determination either to sign off on a winning note or – as it turned out – to get the win that would see them through as one of the three best runners-up from the five pools. The only surprise given their first-half domination was that they should win so narrowly.
Stade wasted no time in taking the initiative as they went in search of the big win that would give them the best chance of qualifying for the knockout stages, and took a third-minute lead through Paul Alo-Emile after the prop’s fellow-forwards had driven on from a lineout. Shane Geraghty converted, and the zest with which the home side celebrated the try was an ominous indication that Edinburgh could be in for a long night.
It did not take long for that impression to be strengthened, as just a few minutes later Jonathan Danty won the race for a long kick ahead to touch down in goal. The centre’s try needed to be referred to the Television Match Official before being given, as referee Frank Murphy appeared to be unsure if the centre had strayed offside before the kick, but after a short wait it was confirmed.
Geraghty’s failure to add the two points was no more than slightly reassuring for Edinburgh, who had yet to find any sort of rhythm in their game.
At the end of the first quarter they did get their act together a bit, setting up good position with a penalty to touch from Jaco van der Walt. The pack secured good ball, but when it was spread wide, full-back Darcy Graham got isolated in possession and unceremoniously tackled into the ground.
Geraghty and Van der Walt were both off target with penalties in the last five minutes before the break, and although they would have rued their stand-off’s failure to open their account, Edinburgh could only be pleasantly surprised that they went in at half-time a mere 12 points down.
Swirling rain made the already heavy pitch even less conducive to running rugby after the break, but Edinburgh nonetheless managed to put together some good continuity play, and opened their account after 53 minutes. After good approach work by the pack, Graham was again halted, but this time he managed to recycle and Damien Hoyland completed the score near the right corner flag.
Van der Walt failed with the conversion, but the score breathed fresh optimism into Edinburgh, who continued to enjoy their best spell of the match.
On the hour, however, Stade regained the initiative with a lightning counter-attack. Winger Djibril Camara began it with an elusive run, but it was the unstoppable power of Sergio Parisse that ended it, the Italian forcing his way through the final few metres for another unconverted try.
Dougie Fife grabbed a score back with seven minutes to play, chasing down a kick ahead from Van der Walt. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, making his 100th appearance, was just wide with the touchline conversion.
In the final few minutes Stade pressed hard for the bonus-point try that would give them an away quarter-final against Newcastle. Some defiant defence denied them, however, and as a consequence they now visit Pau instead.