Edinburgh come so close to famous win over Bulls as Mike Blair speaks of pride at performance
After Morne Steyn had regained the lead for the Bulls with just two minutes to go in an epic tussle at Loftus Versfeld, Henry Immelman had a chance to snatch the glory for Edinburgh with the last kick of the game, only for his penalty to sail well wide. Edinburgh lost out 33-31 as a result.
The full-back had also been off target with another attempt a few minutes beforehand, while Mark Bennett had missed two of his five conversion attempts. Nonetheless, Blair – whose team’s tries came from Charlie Savala, Damien Hoyland and a Darcy Graham hat-trick – said he would not hold Immelman responsible for the defeat.
“We were looking at that game exactly the same as if that kick went over or didn’t,” the head coach said. “Henry is not a front-line kicker but he stood up and wanted to do that. It was a difficult kick, he didn’t make it and of course he is distraught about it.
“He had an excellent game apart from that. The game was lost in that last ten minutes and not with that kick.
“We are missing some front-line kickers. Jaco [Van der Walt] would have been there, Blair Kinghorn would have been there, [Emiliano] Boffelli is away with Argentina.”
Kinghorn had been selected to start but was ruled out yesterday morning with a stomach bug. Van der Walt moved up from the bench to replace him, but he only lasted ten minutes before going off with a head injury.
That was just one of many things that went wrong for Edinburgh in the first 20 minutes, which also saw co-captain Grant Gilchrist shown a yellow card when the referee lost patience with the visitors after they had given away a string of penalties.
But scores by Savala and Graham got them back to just a point behind at the break. The second half was nip and tuck until, with ten minutes left, Bennett converted Hoyland’s try to put his side in front for the first time.
Five minutes further on, Immelman could have turned a one-point lead into four but was off target. Then up stepped Morne Steyn – the man who scored the winning points for the Springboks in last year’s series against the British & Irish Lions – to put his team back in front with a 78th-minute penalty.
Immelman then had that last-gasp chance at glory, but it was not to be. Having just come up short against last year’s URC runners-up, Edinburgh next face the champions, the Stormers, on Saturday in Cape Town. And, although Blair accepted his team had had their flaws, he said they should be proud of their fightback.
“It was definitely a disappointing start, the first quarter of the game,” he said. “I didn’t think we were quite there mentally. That gave the Bulls a couple of easy ins into the game by not being switched on enough.
“On the positive side, the way we came back from that, and the guts, courage and skill we brought to the game, was absolutely outstanding. There was too much of a cushion at the start, but we got ourselves back into the position to win the game. It was an outstanding effort.”