BRAVE, brave Edinburgh did all they could to produce the upset of the Heineken Champions Cup, but fell frustratingly short in France. They scored all the points in the second half and twice more got the ball over the line only for the scores to be disallowed for offences in the build-up.
It left them wondering what might have been if they had been able to find the ferocity and confidence they produced after the break just a few minutes earlier – though it took some great defence at the death to prevent a late interception gifting Montpellier the scoring bonus point and depriving them of a much-deserved point for losing by less than seven.
For all that, what it should have demonstrated to Edinburgh, who play Toulon next week, is that they can live with the best teams in Europe. Montpellier are one of the biggest-spending clubs in the Heineken Cup and one of those tipped to lift the trophy, but with a little more belief or a little more luck, the Scots might have won this match.
Richard Cockerill, the head coach, had claimed all the pressure was on Montpellier and his side could relax and give it a lash. Maybe the players were told something different; maybe they were not listening properly – because it was the Scots who came out looking a lot more nervous and the mistakes flowed as a result.
A flurry of early penalties rocked Edinburgh back into their own half to leave them defending gamely on their own line until Ruan Pienaar sucked the defence in and found Henry Immelman, the full-back, on his shoulder for the scoring offload.
Chasing the game was where Edinburgh expected to be, and finding themselves there seemed to relax them and they began to show something of their own attacking abilities. There was plenty of recycling and patience from the visitors as they started to reel Montpellier back in and eventually it paid off.
Predictably, it all started with Bill Mata, the Fijian No 8, who got them going and offloaded to Grant Gilchrist to carry the move on. Another delightful pair of offloads put Henry Pyrgos racing to the line. Though Pienaar got back to catch him, Stuart McInally was on hand to pick up and dive over.
That should have settled the Scots, but before they had time to re-adjust to being level, disaster struck. Blair Kinghorn has a lot of strengths but can be suspect in defence, which he showed as he missed a straightforward one-on-one tackle on Benjamin Fall. Simon Hickey couldn’t get back quickly enough either and Fall was in.
The second half of the double whammy came a couple of minutes after the restart when the French turned the ball over on their own half. Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, the lock, took play into the Edinburgh 22, where a cross kick from Pienaar confused the visiting defence as it landed perfectly for Gabriel N’gandebe, the wing, for the third home try.
Edinburgh did finish the half on a high but could only manage a Hickey penalty for all the pressure. They started the second half the way they finished the first, however, again laying siege to the home line. They might have expected to get more reward when Bismarck du Plessis was sin-binned for killing the ball under their own posts but Hamish Watson was judged offside when he got his hand to the ball as it rolled loose over the line.
They eventually made all the pressure tell, however, with a Dougie Fife try. Ben Toolis set them on their way before patient recycling gave Mata another sniff of a gap, carrying through the first tackle and offloading to the winger for the score. By now Jaco van der Walt was on at fly-half, but he became the first kicker to miss a shot at goal, leaving Edinburgh trailing by six points.
He did show the other side of his game with a trademark break from deep that ended with Matt Scott charging down the sideline to bring them to the line. With the defence scattered, however, a mix-up between Simon Berghan and Magnus Bradbury saw a second touchdown chalked off, this time for obstruction. That was the closest Edinburgh got to the winning score and they still had a scare to come as Louis Picamoles intercepted a Sean Kennedy pass and looked certain to land the fourth French try before Chris Dean got back to haul him down inches short.
Montpellier: H Immelman; B Fall (Y Reilhac, 67), V Martin (J Tomas, 77), J Serfontein, G N’gandebe; R Pienaar, E Sanga (A Dumoulin, 44); M Nariashvili, B Du Plessis (V Giudicelli, 57), J Du Plessis (A Guillamon, 44), N Janse van Rensburg (K Kornath, 75), P Willemse, F Ouedraogo, W Liebenberg (V Giudicelli, 47-57, K Galletier, 67), L Picamoles.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Graham, J Johnstone, M Scott (C Dean, 76), D Fife; S Hickey (J van der Walt, 56), H Pyrgos (S Kennedy, 72); A Dell (R Sutherland, 63), S McInally (R Ford, 41), W Nel (S Berghan, 51), B Toolis, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, H Watson (J Ritchie, 66), V Mata (L Hamilton, 67).
Referee: W Barnes (England).
Montpellier: Tries: Immelman, Fall, N’gandebe. Cons: Pienaar 3.
Edinburgh: Tries: McInally, Fife. Con: Hickey. Pen: Hickey.
Scoring sequence (Montpellier first): 7-0, 7-7, 17-7, 21-7, 21-10 half-time, 21-15.
Yellow card –
Montpellier: B du Plessis.
Man of the Match: Though Louis Picamoles got the official one, we are giving it to Bill Mata for another barnstorming performance.
Talking point: Was Richard Cockerill right to write off his side’s chances in public? They showed they could live with Montpellier but early nerves cost them.