STUART BATHGATE @ Myreside
IF this does turn out to be Edinburgh’s last appearance at Myreside, they certainly bowed out on a high note. Behind for most of the match to a powerful Leinster side, and still trailing deep inside the final minute, Richard Cockerill’s squad gave further proof of their fighting character with a superb last-gasp score to claim a bonus-point win.
The two points with which Leinster left were little consolation after they had put so much into the game, and they will play a lot worse and win. But Edinburgh, after conceding three tries before half-time, tightened up their defence in the second half, and given the pressure they were under did well to lose just one more.
“It’s probably the bizarrest bonus point you’ll see,” Cockerill said, accepting that his team had been second best in many aspects of play. “I don’t know what the stats were but we’d have lost the stats for territory and possession, but we stayed in the game. We gave ourselves a fighting chance the whole way through.
“I was disappointed how we played – I didn’t think we played particularly well. But we’re becoming difficult to beat, so if we can continue doing that we give ourselves opportunities.”
A penalty kicked to touch established the platform for Leinster’s first try, scored after just four minutes. Smooth progress through the phases took the forwards inside the home five-metre line, and No 8 Max Deegan finished the move off with a powerful leg drive. Ross Byrne converted to put the Irishmen 7-0 up.
Edinburgh had an immediate chance to narrow the deficit, but Jaco van der Walt’s 40m penalty was off target. Leinster returned to the attack immediately, but just as a second try appeared likely, Luke Crosbie charged down a chip, collected the loose ball himself, and sprinted from halfway to touch down between the posts, with Van der Walt this time making no mistake.
It had been an assured start by the visitors, but that try put them off their stride, and they soon fell behind when full-back Dave Kearney was stripped of possession by Mark Bennett close to his left touchline. Nathan Fowles raced away with the ball, evaded one tackle, and touched down close to the corner flag for an unconverted try.
Gradually, however, Leinster found their rhythm again, and after 25 minutes Scott Fardy drew them level with a score in the right corner. Byrne was on the mark again to restore his team’s lead.
The speed of Leinster’s recycling from the breakdown continued to cause Edinburgh all sorts of problems, and they fell further behind six minutes before half-time to a third try. The forwards again dug deep through the middle, and although the fringe defence held firm when the attack went right, a quick switch to the far left gave Barry Daly just enough time to get over the line for another unconverted score.
Edinburgh were awarded a kickable penalty on the stroke of half-time, but they first opted to go for touch and then, when Leinster offended again, Bennett tapped and went. It was a calculated gamble, but it paid off when Murray McCallum finished off the drive. Bennett himself pulled the conversion wide of the far post, but a two-point disadvantage at the break was a decent position to be in after the pressure they had been under.
To do more than just stay within touching distance of Leinster, however, Cockerill’s side had to get closer to something approaching parity at the breakdown, but in the opening 15 minutes of the second half, they continued to be outmuscled by Leinster. John Hardie came off the bench for his first appearance since serving a three-month suspension, and the flanker and other substitutes such as Rory Sutherland helped increase the dynamism at the breakdown.
When the referee awarded another very kickable penalty with an hour on the clock, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, on at the same time as Hardie, made use of the free play with a chip behind the defence towards the left corner. Duhan van der Merwe had a lot still to do after catching the ball, and he did it well, breaking clear of a cover tackle to give his team a try bonus. It was a still night, but somehow not one for kickers, and Hidalgo-Clyne then became the latest to miss with his conversion attempt.
Daly put Leinster back in front and gave them the bonus with his second try, a squeeze in the left corner, but again the chance to add the two points was missed. That score was enough to keep the Irishmen in front until, with 14 seconds left on the clock, Edinburgh seized that dramatic winner. When they were awarded a kickable penalty, Van der Walt used the free ball to send a chip over the top. Glenn Bryce tapped it back to Bennett, and the centre ran in unopposed to touch down underneath the posts. Hidalgo-Clyne made no mistake this time, and the two-point dividend became five.
Edinburgh: D Fife; D Rae, M Bennett, C Dean, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, N Fowles; J Lay, C Fenton, M McCallum, F McKenzie, L Carmichael, L Crosbie, J Ritchie, V Mata. Substitutes: N Cochrane, R Sutherland, J Hardie, S Hidalgo-Clyne, G Bryce, M Shields, J Rasolea, M Bradbury.
Leinster: D Kearney; F McFadden, R O’Loughlin, N Reid, B Daly; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; P Dooley, R Strauss, M Bent, R Molony, S Fardy, J Murphy, W Connors, M Deegan. Substitutes: B Byrne, E Byrne, O Heffernan, M Kearney, P Timmins, L McGrath, C Frawley, A Byrne.
Edinburgh: Tries: Crosbie, Fowles, McCallum, Van der Merwe, Bennett. Cons: Van der Walt, Hidalgo-Clyne.
Leinster: Tries: Deegan, Fardy, Daly 2. Cons: R Byrne 2.
Scoring sequence: 0-5, 0-7, 5-7, 7-7, 12-7, 12-12, 12-14, 12-19, 17-19 half-time, 22-19, 22-24, 27-24, 29-24.
Referee: P Williams (New Zealand).