A CLASSY display from flanker Cornell du Preez eased Edinburgh Rugby to their fourth consecutive home win as Connacht were dispatched 43-10 in the RaboDirect Pro12 at Murrayfield.
This was Edinburgh’s 99th victory in all meetings with Celtic rivals at league level going back 10 years and scarcely did they have to get out of first gear until three tries in the final eight minutes helped them claim a bonus point in spectacular fashion.
After taking an early 10-3 lead, Connacht huffed and puffed, but delivered relatively little, mostly butchering what chances came their way. It was simply a case of Edinburgh hanging in and relying heavily on the boot of Greig Laidlaw until a late flurry near the end produced tries by Du Preez, Nick de Luca and Willem Nel to add to a first half touchdown by Dougie Fife.
It was a personal triumph, too, for Laidlaw, whose five penalties and four conversions were part of a 100 per cent return and took him past 400 league points for Edinburgh.
Not even Laidlaw, though, could get close to Du Preez when it came to man-of-the-match honours. The South African flanker, who is expected to try to qualify on residency for Scotland, was sublime in both attack and defence.
Edinburgh spent the opening exchanges on the back foot, during which Connacht were held up over the home line and Greig Tonks had to produce a timely ‘mark’ to relieve pressure.
Eventually Edinburgh worked their way upfield, but it was against the run of play Laidlaw opened the scoring with an angled penalty in eight minutes.
Almost immediately Connacht hit back with a snap drop goal by Dan Parks to equalise.
Worse was to follow when, after an outstanding tackle on the retreat by Dave Denton, superb backing up saw Connacht claim the opening try out wide through full-back Robbie Henshaw. Parks converted for 10-3 lead after 15 minutes.
Parks was inches away from grabbing an intercept on the restart, but Laidlaw in particular was looking sharp and it was following his half-break that the Edinburgh skipper cut the deficit with a second penalty at the end of the opening quarter.
Then Ross Rennie was held as Edinburgh pressed the accelerator, only to be thwarted by a Ben Atiga knock-on when paying siege to the line.
Nevertheless, it was Edinburgh asking the questions, with Jack Cuthbert given the chance to charge at the line in the lead up to a third penalty success for Laidlaw.
Suddenly – and after Aleki Lutui and Du Preez had briefly released Cuthbert – the momentum changed, with Mick Kearney threatening menacingly.
Fortunately for Edinburgh, Du Preez got back to haul the attacker down and there was further relief when a Parks penalty rebounded out off the post.
Edinburgh were making too many mistakes as a scrappy half drew to a close and once again it was Du Preez having an impact by getting under a high kick from Cuthbert.
Almost on the interval Edinburgh put a penalty into touch 15 metres out and were eventually rewarded for their adventure with a try by Fife – his fifth in 25 league outings – after Connacht had been stretched through multiple phases of possession. Laidlaw converted to give Edinburgh a 16-10 lead at the interval.
Try scorer Fife re-started with a superb cover tackle to deny Henshaw and the off-load was fortunately dropped by Matt Healy. Connacht then butchered a further opportunity by putting boot to ball, leaving Edinburgh lucky to escape without conceding.
Rennie was then held short, but pressure told with a fourth Laidlaw penalty.
While Laidlaw was maintaining a 100 per cent record, international goal-kicking predecessor Parks suffered another uncharacteristic penalty miss at the other end.
When Connacht transgressed again, Laidlaw took his league points tally past the 400 mark with a fifth penalty for 22-10 on the hour mark, just after comeback man Rennie had been replaced by Roddy Grant.
This stuttering match continued with Edinburgh seeming content to hold what they had and Connacht offering little real threat.
Indeed, Edinburgh had only occasionally seen the visiting try-line, but in quickly going up through the gears, Cuthbert’s burst paved the way for Du Preez’s fourth try in six matches.
Not that Edinburgh were anything like finished and De Luca pounced on a loose pass to cartwheel over the line before Nel finished off a break out for the bonus point, Laidlaw converting all three scores.
Coach Alan Solomons savoured the try bonus-point breakthrough ahead of Edinburgh’s return to Heineken Cup duty next week with a home game against Gloucester.
“At times we were a little bit rushed and frenetic, not as composed as we should have been,” said Solomons, “but lets give credit, they did exceptionally well.
“To start, we held wave after wave of pressure, came back and the resolve we showed was very, very important.
“We realised at half time the game was about possession; if we held on to ball and made them tackle, the holes were going to come.”
Edinburgh are now eighth in the RaboDirect Pro12 table and Solomons added: “What was fantastic was right near the death we put the two tries on to get the bonus point.
“Connacht are a gutsy team and one has to give credit to our boys; not many teams put points on them.
“I feel that was a really good performance. Every time you play like this and get a victory like this, it builds confidence.”
Edinburgh: Tries: Fife, Du Preez, De Luca, Nel. Conversions: Laidlaw (4). Penalties: Laidlaw (5)
Connacht: Try: Henshaw. Conversion: Parks. Drop goal: Parks.
Edinburgh: Tonks; Fife, De Luca, Atiga (Beard 67), Cuthbert; Leonard, Laidlaw (c); Dickinson (Blaauw 65), Lutui (Hilterbrand 72), Nel, Atkins (Cox 51), Van der Westhuizen, Du Preez, Denton, Rennie (Grant. 56). Subs not used: Cross, Hidalgo-Clyne, Brown.
Connacht: Henshaw; Carr, Griffin (Duffy 62), McSharry, Healy; Parks (Ronaldson, 56), Marmion (Murphy 61); Loughney (Buckley 50), Henry (Harris-Wright 50), White (Ah You 50), Kearney, Clarke (c), Muldowney (Muldoon, 60), McKeon (Swift, 69), Heenan (Muldoon, 29-40),
Referee: L Hodges (Wales)