This was a game of two completely contrasting halves. Edinburgh were utterly useless in the first 40 and almost equally inspired after the break. Connacht raced into a 21-5 lead with a trio of well-taken tries and were cruising to victory when the home team suddenly woke up and decided to join the party.
Alan Solomons’ side managed three tries in a much improved second-half performance in which they displayed no little enterprise and almost completed the mother of all comebacks, clawing their way from 21-5 behind to trail 21-20 going into the final ten minutes only for a 73rd-minute try by Connacht flanker Eoin McKeon to seal this bonus point win for the league leaders. To top off a miserable night, Scotland centre Matt Scott left the field in the first half with an arm injury.
This first half was so one-sided you half expected a white towel to sail onto the pitch from the Edinburgh coaches’ box. Only rarely did the hosts summon the energy required to get out of their own half and when they did the home team inevitably coughed up possession far too easily.
Connacht came with a simple, high-tempo game plan which they executed with an equal lack of fuss and mistakes. They resembled Japan in the World Cup, only with added ambition. When the backs weren’t giving the ball width, the Connacht driving maul was marching Edinburgh’s big men backwards at a rate of knots, milking penalties, earning a yellow card for Anton Bresler on 31 minutes and scoring a try on 32.
Edinburgh looked like dinosaurs in the first half especially, slow to act, even more sluggish to react. Stand-off Phil Burleigh crabbed across the pitch taking time and space away from his outside backs and Edinburgh’s defence was porous throughout.
Hamish Watson carried with his usual aggression, Damien Hoyland enjoyed a busy evening and Rory Sutherland made a brilliant steal in the first half but even he, and the rest of his colleagues, were found wanting in the set scrum. Connacht managed to shunt Edinburgh back on their own ball and win a scrum penalty just before the half-hour mark and the visitors kept turning the screw throughout the match until Edinburgh got one back on 66 minutes.
The Irishmen opened the scoring through stand-off AJ MacGinty who wriggled between two Edinburgh players to score on 21 minutes. Jake Heenan added his five points from the rolling maul and Sam Hidalgo Clyne fluffed a penalty attempt with the last kick of the first half. Connacht’s full-back Tiernan O’Halloran had been carded for tackling Watson high and if they were to get anything out of this game Edinburgh needed to make their one-man advantage count and they did that when Hoyland’s long, miss pass picked out Chris Dean who couldn’t be caught from ten yards out to signal the start of the fightback three minutes into the second half.
Connacht centre Bundi Aki cut short Edinburgh’s celebrations, strolling past some non-existent defence, following MacGinty’s initial line break, to stretch the visitors’ lead to 21-5 but Edinburgh were far from finished. Just minutes later Solomons’ troops were back on the attack. Their maul was stopped in its tracks, five metres from the Connacht line, but Blair Kinghorn entered the attack and sent Hoyland over in the same corner that Deans had already marked. When No 8 Cornell du Preez grabbed Edinburgh’s third try on the hour mark and Hidalgo Clyne kicked a 69th minute penalty, we had a one-point match with ten minutes on the clock and Murrayfield contemplating the most unlikely comeback of all time.
Instead Edinburgh had to settle for a losing bonus point following McKeon’s try and Hidalgo Clyne’s last-minute penalty.