Connacht take down Saffa-laden Edinburgh
MATCH REPORT: Connacht claimed just their second away win since November with 37-26 victory in Edinburgh.
In a breathless first half, Edinburgh’s Nic Groom claimed the first try of the match before Caolin Blade, Sam Arnold and Alex Wootton all notched dazzling tries to give Connacht the advantage.
Mike Willemse went over either side of the break to give the hosts hope of a fightback, but Wootton’s second of the night and Shane Delahunt’s score put Connacht out of sight, though Andrew Davidson earned his side a bonus point with a try late on.
A second win of the season marks a perfect response to Round 2 defeat for 2015/16 champions Connacht, while Edinburgh’s fourth successive defeat at BT Murrayfield maintains a disappointing start to the 2020/21 campaign.
The visitors were the first to strike on the four-minute mark, as Conor Fitzgerald’s first kick of the evening kissed the post but squeezed through, punishing early Edinburgh indiscipline.
Richard Cockerill’s men responded immediately, plunging deep into away territory despite the best defensive efforts of Arnold and Fitzgerald, with skipper Groom eventually touching down.
Jaco van der Walt added the extras to give Edinburgh a 7-3 lead on ten minutes, but a magical moment from Blade from a driving maul restored the Irishmen’s lead less than five minutes later.
And more champagne rugby was to come from Andy Friend’s charges, Fitzgerald threading through a sumptuous left-footed grubber kick that found Arnold in space on the right wing who crossed for the score midway through the half.
Edinburgh enjoyed a spell of possession but gifted Connacht the ball at their own lineout, and John Porch initiated a coast-to-coast try with a searing run, before offloading to Wootton to finish off the stylish move.
It looked like it was continuing to rain tries in the Scottish capital as Eroni Sau slipped into a gap in the Connacht backline before going under the posts on the half-hour mark, only for it to be ruled out for obstruction.
Tom Daly struck another three points to stretch Connacht’s lead to 23-7 as the game edged towards half-time, but the Galway-based side were guilty of conceding a succession of penalties as the clock ticked into overtime.
And Willemse made them pay, bulldozing over for the fifth try of a pulsating half and reducing the arrears to nine points at the interval, while also shifting the momentum in Edinburgh’s favour.
The 2019/20 semi-finalists continued where they left off at the start of the second period, Willemse claiming his second in similar fashion in the corner, to close the gap to 23-19 in the 51st minute.
If that was a test of Connacht’s resolve though they responded in style, going straight down the other end and Blade this time producing a smart kick for Wootton to collect and touch down, before Daly kicked them to the 30-point mark.
Hooker Delahunt then got in on the act with Connacht’s fifth score, initiating the initial attack and then finishing off after several phases of dominant attacking play, presenting an uphill task to Edinburgh with 20 minutes to play.
Davidson set up a tense seven minutes with a well-worked score to earn a bonus point for the home side, but Connacht saw the game out smartly to take the spoils from a thrilling contest between two Conference B heavyweights.
Tries: Groom, Willemse 2, Davidson
Cons: Van der Walt 3
Tries: Blade, Arnold, Wootton 2, Delahunt
Cons: Daly 3
Pens: Fitzgerald, Daly
Edinburgh: 15 Jack Blain, 14 Eroni Sau, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Jamie Farndale, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Nic Groom (c), 8 Mesu Kunavula, 7 Ally Miller, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Andrew Davidson, 4 Lewis Carmichael, 3 WP Nel, 2 Mike Willemse, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 David Cherry, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Jamie Hodgson, 20 Connor Boyle, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Nathan Chamberlain, 23 George Taylor
Connacht: 15 John Porch, 14 Sammy Arnold, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Conor Fitzgerald, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Abraham Papali’i, 7 Jarrad Butler (c), 6 Paul Boyle, 5 Gavin Thornbury, 4 Eoghan Masterson, 3 Jack Aungier, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Jonny Murphy, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Cian Prendergast, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Colm Reilly, 22 Peter Robb, 23 Tiernan O’Halloran
Referee: Adam Jones
Assistant Referees: Ben Blain, David Sutherland
TMO: Andrew McMenemy