Last weekend’s French opposition, Agen, sit one place off the bottom of the Top 14 table while last night’s visitors find themselves one off the summit. Richard Cockerill must have anticipated a sterner test of his team’s resilience and he got one, Bordeaux Begles fighting back from a 16-6 deficit early in the second half to snatch a draw in this European Challenge Cup Pool 3 tie, thanks to a Mathieu Jalibert penalty two minutes from time.
Edinburgh dominated great swathes of this encounter but the scoreboard rarely reflected that superiority and this proved a painful lesson in the importance of scoring points when you have the whip hand.
“I’m disappointed, but they’re a good team and if you switch off for a second or you make basic errors and give them opportunity then they’ll take it,” Cockerill said.
“We did some good things but we’re disappointed we didn’t win. That’s a game that we should close out but we made poor decisions. But nothing’s lost or won from the pool stage today: there’s a long way to go.”
The home side didn’t help themselves with some sloppy play; they lost four lineouts in the first quarter alone, Mike Willemse’s arrows failing to hit the board never mind the bull, although he improved as the game progressed, and Edinburgh kicked the ball a little aimlessly at times.
The home side were also short-staffed at the breakdown, losing at least three turnovers and conceding Bordeaux’s try because of it. From one restart Bill Mata was hopelessly isolated and forced to concede a penalty as his fellow forwards watched on impotently as though rooted to the spot.
That penalty hit the uprights but at another restart minutes later Edinburgh erred again, conceding a soft penalty and Jalibert was able to close the first half with an important three points to add to his earlier penalty, which kept his Bordeaux side interested in a game that had been slipping out of their grasp.
On the plus side Blair Kinghorn’s defence has tightened up considerably. The full-back made a couple of telling tackles that needed to be made, one on the force of nature that is Fijian Semi Radradra.
The Edinburgh scrum got the upper hand in the second 40 after Bordeaux changed their entire front row, and when the ball was hoisted into the black Edinburgh sky the home team’s chase was exceptional, arguably the biggest weapon in Edinburgh’s somewhat limited armoury, especially winger Eroni Sau and flanker Magnus Bradbury.
The tactic led directly to Edinburgh’s opening try but it probably worked best when Jaco van der Welt went cross-field to the Fijian winger who would nail man and ball both. When he got his timing wrong early in the second half and caught the man in the air, Sau quickly made amends by clearing up a flapped lineout ball.
Edinburgh opened their account after 15 minutes with a van der Walt penalty after the forwards finally won a lineout and milked a simple penalty from the resulting drive. When the same South African marksman doubled the home lead from a set-scrum penalty a little later it felt like the Rugby World Cup all over again.
The Bokke tactical influence continued as Edinburgh grabbed the opening try five minutes before the break thanks to a Henry Pyrgos box kick which Edinburgh chased and Mata recovered expertly.
The ball was flung wide right to Kinghorn whose injection of pace as he entered the line enabled him to win the battle of the Blairs. Despite being caught by Bordeaux winger Blair Connor, the leggy full-back slid over the opposition try line from five yards out and Edinburgh took a 13-6 advantage into the half-time break.
Van der Walt added the first points of the second half, his third penalty on 50 minutes, and Edinburgh appeared to be in complete command of events until two Fijians had their say. Replacement Seta Tamanivalu made the initial break while Radradra finished it expertly, stepping in off the left flank to score to the right of the posts. The score came from turnover ball after Edinburgh, again, under-resourced the breakdown.
The visitors were within three points of their hosts with most of the final quarter still to play. The Edinburgh faithful were on edge, not helped when van der Walt pushed a long penalty attempt wide of the posts. It proved a costly miss. With two minutes on the clock Edinburgh’s discipline let them down when defending Bordeaux’s driving maul and Jalibert stepped up to kick the all-important equaliser from 45 yards out.