Connacht Rugby v Edinburgh
In treacherous conditions and against a physical and committed Connacht outfit, Edinburgh produced a stunning second-half performance to secure their sixth Guinness PRO14 win in a row.
In a classic snatch and grab victory, Edinburgh rallied late and when Duncan Weir – a second-half replacement – slid over the whitewash with just five minutes remaining, Richard Cockerill’s side never looked like giving up their hard-earned lead.
The win now puts further breathing room between the capital club and fourth place Ulster – 13 points to be exact – and despite Edinburgh’s poor first-half showing, the end result was a testament to the squad’s ability to stay in the battle until the 80th minute.
Edinburgh Head Coach, Richard Cockerill, was left feeling understandably relieved on the full-time whistle, but was quick to point out that his side can perform a lot better.
“Credit to Connacht, I thought they played really well and handled the conditions better than us,” said Cockerill.
“But, I’m really proud of Edinburgh. We stayed in the fight; we stayed in the game and we were able to create opportunities when it mattered.
“I’m really grateful for the win. The players dug themselves out and they should take a huge amount of credit for that. Because we’re hard working; we stay in games and we’re bloody hard to beat – and we’re getting in a habit of thinking ‘we can really win this’ - regardless of what’s going on around us.
“We’re not good enough to get ahead of ourselves. We have to be right every time we play. Tonight, if we’d lost, we’d have deserved to lose.
The key thing for us now, is that every game is important, and we want to get as far as we can. If we get into a play-off, I want us to get into a semi. Will we? I don’t know, but we’ll make some of the big teams sweat.
“That’s where we’re at. Every time you play, grit your teeth, roll your sleeves up and play as best as you can. Because that’s what big teams do and that’s what the best teams do. We’re not there yet, but were becoming a really hard team to beat.”
Edinburgh got off to the perfect start when Dougie Fife charged down a kick to cross the whitewash with just 10 seconds on the clock - the Guinness PRO14’s quickest every try. It was a stunning opening play and one which left the Sportsground faithful rubbing their eyes in disbelief.
The visitors would soon add to their advantage when Jaco van der Walt knocked over a simple penalty, but Connacht – who had shown the early impetus moving the ball into the wide channels – soon rallied with a well taken score of their own.
With Edinburgh’s defence drifting outside, Tiernan O’Halloran gathered a well-timed inside pass, and with no one at home the fullback was able to glide over with ease.
Connacht would score their second of the night only moments later. Tom Farrell was the man who cut open the Edinburgh back-line, and with Jack Carty chipping over the simple conversion, the hosts held a 14-8 lead.
Edinburgh would ramp up their defence, however, and it soon payed dividends. A spilled Connacht pass was fed wide and when the ball found Duhan van der Merwe in the wide channel, there was only going to be one result. The big South African powered over from 15 metres out to notch up his third try in two games.
Although Connacht’s Carty would slot another penalty shortly before half-time, there was only four points in it at the break. (17-13)
With the rain now lashing down, the second half soon descended into a physical battle, with both sides content with kicking away possession.
But, as Edinburgh brought on the experienced Duncan Weir, the match was soon flipped on its head. The stand-off off firstly slotted a penalty to bring Edinburgh within a point, and despite Connacht countering with a powerful try from Finlay Bealham, it was Weir who would have the last laugh.
In a three-minute spell, Weir would slot another penalty before charging down a kick to score the go-ahead score.
With the hosts chasing the lead, Edinburgh’s John Hardie closed out with match with a brilliant steal, and for the capital side, the prospect of play-off rugby is becoming more real every week