Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Scott, Visser. Cons: Laidlaw (2). Pens: Laidlaw (5). Munster: Tries: Laulau, Sherry. Cons: Keatley (2). Pens: Keatley (3).
Yesterday, the capital club turned the tables and turned the clock back two years when they saved their best for this competition. This win is their first in Europe since that 2012 run which took them all the way to the Heineken semi-final and while no one is predicting a repeat of those heroics, this was a performance to savour for itself.
Edinburgh were vastly improved from some of their recent league showings, playing with aggression, intelligence and some of their old flair. The set scrum edged the tight exchanges, except for one instance late in the game, Sean Cox stole at least three of Munster’s throws at the sidelines and the backs ran with conviction and defended pretty well. The midfield combination of Matt Scott and Nick de Luca was especially potent and the pair could find themselves lining up for Scotland next month.
For all that, the match still appeared to be going according to script, with Munster enjoying a four-point lead ten minutes from time, when Tim Visser popped up to score a cracking solo try out of nowhere. Deep inside his own half of the field, replacement fullback JJ Hanrahan chipped the ball over the rushing Edinburgh defence. He was caught by Scott while the ball was caught by Grant Gilchirst. The long lock threw a long mispass to his left winger and Visser pinned back his ears and backed himself all the way to the line. Even then the Munster support, who had turned the East Stand red, squawked their outrage and the referee, Irishman JP Doyle, went “upstairs” to check that there was nothing untoward in Scott’s collision with Hanrahan and that Gilchrist’s pass to Visser had not drifted forward. The home support had several agonising minutes to wait before the referee raised his arm and there was still time for Laidlaw to add one more penalty before the birthday boy hit the crossbar with his final effort on 79 minutes. Alan
Solomons’ men came out of the stalls like a Derby winner and were ten points up before Munster had woken up. The forwards established an attacking field position, Jack Cuthbert found half a yard of space on the right flank and made good ground. When the ball was whipped wide to the left, Scott’s arcing run took him over the try line with a couple of Munstermen along for the ride.
Laidlaw kicked the conversion, via the upright, and added the first of his five penalties before Munster summoned a response. Their coach, Rob Penny, may be expanding Munster’s horizons along with their game plan but the men in red still look at their most dangerous when their forwards are running full pelt into the heart of the opposition defence.
Admittedly, the visitors’ first try came from centre Casey Laulala but only after good approach work from the big men with Donnacha Ryan charging down a clearance from Laidlaw to create the opportunity.
Munster’s next five-pointer was simplicity itself. Awarded a free-kick at an attacking scrum, the forwards drove at pace once, they drove at pace twice and then hooker Mike Sherry dived over from close range all but unopposed.
The pendulum had swung Munster’s way but at the half-time break Edinburgh still had their noses in front of their illustrious visitors thanks to three successive penalties from the boot of Laidlaw. Munster have raised cheating to an art form but referee JP Doyle knows their tricks better than most. Three times the referee’s hand went up and three times Laidlaw did the necessary, two of the kicks coming from the left-hand touchline.
Edinburgh took a two-point lead into the second half but the match was in the balance. Edinburgh’s Georgian breakaway Dimitri Basilaia made a superb turnover to halt one red attacking wave and Laidlaw had to look smart to get to Felix Jones’ kick ahead before the Irish fullback. Visser recovered Laidlaw’s box kick quite brilliantly only to see Harry Leonard kick the ball away with two men waiting outside him.
But much of the match was now being played deep inside the Edinburgh half and eventually Keatley regained the lead for Munster with two penalties, on 52 and 64 minutes, the latter after Munster’s tight five got the better of a set scrum for the first time all afternoon.
Few teams can defend a four-point lead with the tenacity of Munster but they hadn’t reckoned on the finishing power of Edinburgh’s favourite Dutchman and the growing belief of the entire Edinburgh team.
Edinburgh: Cuthbert; Fife, De Luca, Scott, Visser; Leonard, Laidlaw; Dickinson (Blaauw 70 min), Ford, Nel (Cross 70 min), Cilchrist, Cox, Basilaia (Grant 61 min), Du Preez, Denton.
Munster: Jones (Hanrahan 67 min); Earls, Laulala, Downey (Hurley 61 min), Zebo; Keatley, Murray; Kilcoyne (Cronin 50 min), Sherry (Varley 58 min), Archer (Botha 50 min), Ryan, O’Connell, Butler (Stander 50 min), Ronan (O;Callaghan 65 min), Coughlan.
Referee: JP Doyle (IRFU). Attendance: 7,024.