Munster 20, Edinburgh 16: Cockerill's men will rue missed opportunity
The visitors were undone by their own catalogue of errors and a moment of magic from the departing Simon Zebo, who was playing his final game before joining Racing 92 next season.
It was not a classic contest, with too much kicking from both sides, but the prospect of Edinburgh bouncing off the canvas to snatch a late win kept everyone on the edge of their seats until the final whistle. Munster will have to raise their standards if they are to trouble Leinster in the Dublin semi-final.
Visiting skipper Stuart McInally has enjoyed his best season since making the move from the back to the front row but it was the hooker’s error, a lineout over-throw in the eighth minute, that gifted the opening try to Rhys Marshall. McInally desperately tried to halt his opposite number who did well to ground the ball.
Edinburgh ground their way back into contention and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, horribly out of sorts everywhere else, kicked two penalties in the first half, only for the showman that is Zebo to pull a rabbit from his hat just two minutes into the second half.
At first receiver, the full-back dropped a tricky pass from Conor Murray. Zebo tracked back to collect the ball and dinked it over the head of the on rushing Edinburgh defence. Zebo collected and Hidalgo-Clyne made the tackle, but Zebo’s long pass found Keith Earls on the left wing and his marker Dougie Fife was too slow to recognise the danger.
“It was a great piece of skill he pulled off,” said Zebo’s opposite number Blair Kinghorn. “He is a quality player, that is why he is playing at a high level. He worked it well and it was a good try in the corner.”
JJ Hanrahan stepped up with a penalty a little later and, trailing by 17-6, the Edinburgh of old would have capitulated but Richard Cockerill has put some steel in this squad’s soul and instead they hit back with ten points in four minutes. Hidalgo-Clyne kicked his third penalty of the afternoon before being replaced by Nathan Fowles, who almost immediately grabbed Edinburgh’s only try of the afternoon, a typical scrum-half snipe after Bill Mata and Blair Kinghorn between them carried the ball from one twenty-two to the other.
With just one point separating the teams, Edinburgh went in search of that winning score. They had a few half-chances, but instead Hanrahan’s penalty eight minutes from time gave Munster a four-point cushion and they were able to run the clock down to end both the match and Edinburgh’s season.
“We set our goals to be in the play-offs and top flight of Europe,” said Kinghorn when asked about the mood in the camp immediately after the match.
“When we achieved that we realised we were in the play-offs we did not think it was good enough to just get to the quarter-final. We knew we were a good enough team to push on, but we did not get the result. We are all really disappointed because we know we had chances to win that game and we were in it to win it.
“Also we are looking back at how much we have improved this season, we were trying to give a good farewell to players who are leaving. The main mood in the squad ... everyone is really disappointed.”
Despite Zebo’s theatrics, Kinghorn was still the best full-back on the field, a constant problem that Munster’s otherwise excellent defence never got to grips with. He set up Fowles’ try, he broke the Munster defence on several occasions and one attack in the first half that was sparked by the full-back failed to finish with five points only because Grant Gilchrist ignored an overlap on his right and cut inside himself.
On Saturday’s evidence Kinghorn is a genuine challenger to Stuart Hogg, but even his heroics were not enough to nudge Edinburgh to victory