Blair’s side played patiently and powerfully at the Stade Pierre Fabre to complete the double over Castres and ensure they will finish in the top eight in Pool A. However, with only the leading four clubs getting home draws in the next round, and a demanding match against Saracens coming up at the DAM Health Stadium on Sunday, the head coach wants his players to set their sights high.
“We’re pleased we won, but we want to stretch ourselves,” Blair said after a second-half fightback in which his team scored 20 unanswered points. “We want to win at home. It’s a huge game next week against Saracens.
“It’s different to the previous Champions Cup format, because in the past you went straight to the quarter-finals as opposed to going into a round of 16. But I still think this is a brilliant achievement for Edinburgh. We’re playing against the English and French finalists from last season - to get 11 points from those first three games is significant.”
Edinburgh were forced into four changes to their published squad, as Emiliano Boffelli, Luan de Bruin and Paddy Harrison all dropped out because of minor injuries in training and Boan Venter missed out because of a visa issue. Jack Blain and Willem Nel were promoted to the starting line-up, and Lee-Roy Atalifo, Tom Cruse, Nick Auterac and academy back Nathan Sweeney came onto the bench.
Dave Cherry gave the visitors an early lead from a lineout maul, and Blair Kinghorn, who would end up with a 100 per cent record with the boot, converted. But then Kinghorn was sent to the sin bin for killing the ball, and Castres levelled from the next phase when Josaia Raisuqe was judged to have beaten Henry Immelman in the race to get a hand on Benjamin Urdapilleta’s grubber into in-goal. Urdapilleta converted.
Castres then went in front following a scrum five when Adrien Seguiret sliced through the defence and touched down, with Gauthier Doubrere converting this time. Edinburgh regrouped, Kinghorn returned, and just before the half-hour mark Bill Mata finished off from close range. Then, after Cherry was shown a yellow card for an offence close to his own line, Wilfrid Hounkpatin scored from a tap penalty, with Urdapilleta’s conversion taking the score to 21-14 at the break.
The momentum Castres had enjoyed late in the first half was conspicuous by its absence in the early stages of the second, and soon Edinburgh drew level again. Mata made the initial break, and then Cammy Hutchison was tackled but not held, so simply got to his feet to race the remaining 15 metres or so to the line.
Replacement scrum-half Ben Vellacott’s try that put Edinburgh back into the lead was similar. Tackled while racing through a gap, the substitute was downed but not held, allowing him to get back to his feet and run in for the bonus-point score.
With quarter of an hour left, a collapsed maul allowed Kinghorn to stretch his team’s lead to 10 points with a penalty. Castres’ attempts to get back into the contest were increasingly tired, and when they offended again inside the last 10 minutes, Kinghorn calmly added three more points to his team’s tally.