Despite a fourth impressive performance of the season Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh find themselves on the bottom of the Conference B standings.
Yet again the side from the capital went toe-to-toe with their hosts, but failed to capitalise on long stretches of possession and territory, while Leinster took five chances and ran out bonus point winners.
To add further woe to the mix, Edinburgh’s stand-out player of the season to date, new South African prop Pierre Schoeman, below, was sent off in the 71st minute when he carried powerfully, but led the way with his elbow. He will face an anxious wait to find out what punishment his hearing deals out this week.
Afterwards Cockerill described Leinster as “the best team in Europe” but, even so, after Magnus Bradbury’s try on 45 minutes they trailed by only five points. But Leinster ran in three more tries thereafter and Edinburgh got to ponder the what-ifs.
“Physically and tactically, we put our game out there, we were just unlucky to come out with only seven points,” said try scorer Bradbury.
“It’s frustrating but you can see why they are double champions. They are a good side to play against. They combated us quite well.
“It’s always good to get on the scoresheet. It’s frustrating to score and then not have won the game. But it is what it is.
“It’s a long old season – as we showed last year. If we get a good run of games we can define our season. Bounce back from this and see where it takes us.
“We’ve a big couple of weeks coming up. We have got Treviso at home and Cheetahs at home after that. It’s a couple of games that we would hope to get a couple of points off at least.”
This time last year we had referees clamping down hard on any high tackles while yellow and red cards were dished out generously. This season the directive is clearly there to stop the ball carrier leading into the tackle with his free arm as a battering ram. After reviewing the incident with his TMO, referee Dan Jones was correct to send off Schoeman, whose blow on Dan Leavy led to the Irish international exiting for a head injury assessment.
Afterwards both Cockerill and Bradbury conceded the players need to heed the new style of officiating.
“It’s a tough one for the referee to call but it’s what they are hot on at the moment,” said Bradbury. “We should know better. We have to be cleaner than clean.”
Cockerill accepted the referee’s call too: “It is (a red card) these days. You have got to protect people. I don’t think it was malicious from our guy. It happens it is an accident more than anything. We know the consequences if it happens.”
For long stretches of that first half Edinburgh were outstanding in defence and were only picked apart from a blocked box-kick and a blistering first-phase set play. Crucially, Cockerill’s side could not impact the scoreboard in their dominant phase in the second quarter.
“We had opportunities and we had advantage and we kicked the ball away. We had advantage and we just dropped the ball. Those are the key parts,” said Cockerill.
“You only get a few opportunities against the good teams. We started the second half well. Then we had opportunities to strike. There was a poor pass from the nine and we turned the ball over and they score. Then we have a poor scrum and they score and the game gets away from you. If you have to come here and win you have got to be really accurate and really good. We battled hard. We are developing as a team. We are not a soft touch anymore. Which is a good starting point and we have got to keep developing that.”
So what now for Edinburgh? They deserved so much more than the six match points they have accumulated to date, and as a result the pressure is on them to add to that tally at home to Treviso on Friday. Expect to see Blair Kinghorn, Stuart McInally, Matt Scott and Henry Pyrgos come back into the team as Cockerill seeks win number two.
“They are the best team in Europe, they are the best team in the Pro14. You could bring your best team here, batter them to death and still get nothing. We chose to make changes,” said the coach.
“We have got Benetton and Cheetahs in the next two weeks and then we get Montpellier and then we get a Toulon. We chose to rotate and look after some of the international guys. We have to do that.”