Edinburgh finished second best in their first Champions Cup match for five years. However, Richard Cockerill’s side bounced back from the worst possible start, conceding a try after only five minutes, finished the stronger side and must wonder what might have been had they produced anything like their best.
After a shaky start, the visitors bossed great swathes of this match, grabbing around 70 per cent of territory and possession, but ultimately two tries was a poor return for all that ball.
The match was tied 7-7 on the half-hour mark, but two tries for Montpellier in the space of five minutes went a long way to deciding this one. Edinburgh fought back with a late penalty in the first half. The visitors dominated the second half, keeping Montpellier pointless and, helped by a yellow card, scored their second against a short-handed Montpellier side to narrow the game to six points, but that was as good as it got.
A late intercept by Louis Picamoles threatened to deny Edinburgh even the consolation of a losing bonus, but the Frenchman was held up over the line.
James Johnson showed up well and Hamish Watson was his usual industrious self. Darcy Graham popped up all over the field to good effect and the Edinburgh front row looked rock-solid throughout.
It could have been a famous win had Edinburgh not started the match playing like a pub team with a hangover. High kicks went unclaimed, easy passes were spilled forward and, worst of all, two simple-looking tackles were missed on Benjamin Fall when the French winger scored the second Montpellier try, Blair Kinghorn the main culprit.
Ruan Pienaar had a big say in this match. He combined with Henry Immelman to send the full-back over for the first try and the stand-off’s crossfield kick fell perfectly for the winger Gabriel N’gendebe.
Montpellier’s third and final try came directly from a turnover and Edinburgh have to box a little smarter at the breakdown because their clearout work proved ineffective against the bigger European beasts. Edinburgh conceded 15 turnovers, Montpellier only ten and in a close game it could have proved the difference.
Edinburgh actually looked good when they held on to the ball and ran through the phases. Their opening score in the first half was a cracker, with offloads from Bill Mata and Grant Gilchrist before Simon Hickey sent Pyrgos racing to the line. The little scummy was caught short by Pienaar, but Stuart McInally was on hand to secure the ball and dive over.
Edinburgh worked their way back into this game in the third quarter. Hickey ignored the posts and kicked to the corner, only for Montpellier to win yet another turnover.
Montpellier hooker Bismark du Plessis was carded on 46 minutes for slowing Edinburgh ball and Mata was tackled short of the line when it looked like he could have scored with one outstretched arm. Minutes later the Fijian lost control at a scrum under the Montpellier sticks, Watson was deemed to have played the ball from an offside position and eventually Picamoles made another turnover.
Just before Montpellier were restored to 15 players, Edinburgh grabbed their second score. Ben Toolis made the initial break and Mata drew two defenders onto him wide on the left before offloading to winger Dougie Fife for an excellent score that narrowed the gap to just six points as the match moved into the final quarter.
Edinburgh sniffed an upset and piled on the pressure in that final 20 minutes, with Jaco van der Walt making an impact at ten. They thought they had snatched another try ten minutes from time when Van der Walt made the initial break and Fife was tackled short. The ball was recycled and Pyrgos was probably aiming for Simon Berghan, who had the line at his mercy. Instead Bradbury intercepted the pass and the prop forward was, correctly, pinged for an inadvertent obstruction despite the final defender having no chance of stopping the score.
Edinburgh had one final chance at the death when a Montpellier hand slapped the ball back in a breakdown 20 yards from their own line. Somehow this illegal subterfuge was missed by the match officials, despite being obvious from outer space, and Montpellier’s coach Vern Cotter was able to breathe again.