Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons labelled his side’s 25-17 win over Lyon at BT Murrayfield last night as ‘remarkable’ after they survived an injury nightmare – including the loss of Scotland skipper Grant Gilchrist – to chalk up a second-successive European Challenge Cup victory over French opposition.
It was a third victory on the trot for the hosts, who had also posted a league success over Newport Gwent Dragons on their last home appearance.
The win came at a substantial cost to the Capital side, with three players failing late fitness tests and another five men leaving the fray inside the first half-hour. Of the original selection, Dougie Fife, Andries Strauss and Alasdair Dickinson were deemed unfit to take the field. And a seemingly endless run of injuries meant that, by half-time, the Edinburgh bench was looking decidedly bare and hooker James Hilterbrand was operating as a replacement for flanker Roddy Grant.
“I thought last week was incredible,” said Solomons. “This tops it in some ways because, in 37 years of coaching, I have never seen anything like it – we lost two players after the captain’s practice, we had five guys already out with injury and we lost another five.
“That speaks volumes for the strength in depth and the character of the side, which was beyond question.”
But it was not all bad news for the home side with international back row Dave Denton coming through unscathed following a longer-than-anticipated shift after he replaced jaw-break victim Hamish Watson with only 16 minutes gone.
There was also a promising performance from Ben Toolis, whose contribution included a vital lineout steal as the French side sought a third try late in the game with a move that had twice yielded scores.
Tom Heathcote set the scoreboard ticking with an early penalty and the home side took their points tally into double figures with less than five minutes on the clock. Phil Burleigh, who had been moved to inside centre in place of Strauss – Heathcote assuming the stand off duties – carved open the Lyon defence with an angled run and drew the final defender before offloading to Jack Cuthbert, who darted in for the score.
Heathcote added the extras then reinforced Edinburgh’s dominance with another three points following a scrum offence. Lyon’s first visit to the Edinburgh 22 came after 13 minutes and earned the first of a string of penalties, each despatched into touch. In the interim, Watson had made way for Denton to make his first appearance of the season.
At the fourth time of asking, the visitors gathered clean ball at the lineout and No.8 Sakiusa Matadigo barged over. Jerome Porical’s conversion cut the deficit to six points. Burleigh had already left with a knee injury and the casualty count continued to rise when Grant suffered a cheek injury and Sam Beard took a head knock with only 19 minutes gone.
Edinburgh regained the territorial advantage and Heathcote added another penalty as the first quarter drew to a close then maintained his flawless record with a further three pointer. The No.10 registered his first miss with a penalty from the right flank. But, of greater significance at this stage, was the departure of Gilchrist with a wrist injury.
Heathcote regained his scoring touch to land penalty No.5 before Edinburgh saw out the first half with a solid defensive effort that included holding the opposition up over the line.
Porical banged over a penalty within four minutes of the restart but Edinburgh gradually regained the upper hand.
However, Tim Visser knocked on within ten metres of the line as he chased a kick ahead, and Heathcote pushed a penalty attempt wide.
The move that had produced the first Lyon try was deployed again with the same outcome after an hour – a penalty booted into touch and a drive that culminated in Didier Tison applying the final touch.
Mathieu Loree’s conversion hauled the Frenchmen to within five points.
The visitors stepped up a gear as the match entered the final ten minutes but failed to add to their tally and a sixth penalty by Heathcote in the dying seconds sealed the win and left Lyon empty-handed.
Edinburgh: Try: Cuthbert. Con: Heathcote. Pens: Heathcote (6).
Lyon: Tries: Matadigo, Tison. Con: Porical, Loree. Pen: Porical.
Edinburgh: G Tonks, J Cuthbert, S Beard (N McLennan 18), P Burleigh (J Dominguez 13), T Visser, T Heathcote P Burleigh, S Hidalgo-Clyne (S Kennedy 62), A Dell, R Ford, W Nel (J Andress 67), A Bresler, G Gilchrist (B Toolis 28), R Grant (J Hilterbrand 18), H Watson (D Denton 16), T Leonardi.
Lyon: J Porical (V Martin 56), F Romanet, P Bonnefond, W Sukanaveita, T Regard, R Loursac, M Loree (A Bau 75), S Mavinga (E Felsina 53), D Fitzpatrick (V Colliat 61), H Tui, (H Pungea 53) M De Marco, C Basson, J Puricelli S Cerqueira 65), A Derrien, M Matadigo (D Tison 53).
Referee: M Carley (RFU)