Grant Gilchrist summed up a surprise 29-23 Edinburgh Rugby victory over twice champions Munster at the start of another Heineken European Cup campaign as “the start of a journey”.
On a day when Matt Scott notched his first tournament try and Tim Visser added to his renowned touchdown record, Gilchrist vied with 19-point Greig Laidlaw for top individual honours before hinting at even better things to come.
“We have had a tough few weeks, but hopefully this is the start of our journey as a team,” said the giant second row.
Ironically, Edinburgh’s poor start to the domestic league season, where they have won only once in five matches was acknowledged as a catalyst as it forced the team to roll sleeves up and produce a typical backs-to-the-wall performance in which Gilchrist not only excelled at the line-out but produced a scoring pass for Visser.
“We were being written off, but that gave us the chance to have something to prove. Nobody was giving us a chance, but we knew we’d had a good training week.
“Also, we’d been getting a bit of flak, so it was good to show the hard work we had been putting in on new systems and styles of play put in place by coach Alan Solomons are really coming through. We knew we were building towards it.”
How Munster must have regretted feeling they had the capacity to rest their captain, Peter O’Mahony, from this crucial fixture for reasons described as his “heavy schedule”.
Such profligacy with a fit player clearly rebounded and when, towards the end, Gilchrist found himself confronted in the line-out by former Lions captain Paul O’Connell and 94-cap veteran Donncha O’Callaghan, still he kept producing the goods alongside Sean Cox.
“Our line-out has been one of our strongest weapons this season, but it also came down to some homework by myself and Sean,” said Gilchrist of four plundered throws to nil which proved a cornerstone.
“We sat down and tried to work out where we could get to them.
“It was one of those days were every time we gambled going forward it seemed to come off.
“We got the rub of the green at times, but there was pressure on them too. Sometimes you get games like that.”
If the line-out is the domain of a 6ft 7in lock with three international caps even if he is only 23, then getting out and about to put wingers in for tries is surely a bonus.
In the heat of open play, Gilchrist showed composure in picking out Visser who romped in from 35 metres, albeit there was major anxiety before the try was allowed with the video referee having to determine that Matt Scott had not deliberately obstructed the clearing JJ Hanrahan.
“I saw Tim calling for the ball over the top and I thought ‘why not loop it over the top’.
“When it went to the TMO I thought ‘please give it’ because I’d have been broken into bits if we hadn’t scored having given that pass,” said Gilchrist.
As for the other 23-year-old internationalist in the Edinburgh line-up, Matt Scott, he goes from strength to strength with his fourth try in the space of five starts including Scotland calls.
“Matt getting us over the gain line early for the first try (after five minutes) saw things flow from there,” added Gilchrist.
“We got from corner to corner with a bit of momentum and that’s the game plan we have been trying to work on.
“At half-time we led 19-17 and a penalty just before the break to restore our lead was important. It confirmed we were very much in the game and bolstered our belief. The first 20 minutes of the second half saw us under the cosh but that’s when we held pretty strong and when we got our chances we took them.”
In fact, Munster reached 23-19 in front midway through the second half after two penalties from Ian Keatley before Laidlaw’s boot put Edinburgh back in front and, according to Gilchrist, signalled the start of a victory march.
“When we kicked long and kept our shape they were trying to force the ball a bit more and that enabled us to pressure them into a few errors. I certainly feel I’ve been picking up experience adding three caps to playing in a Heineken Cup semi-final two seasons ago and that is starting to stand me in good stead.
“It was a good team performance but nobody is getting carried away. It’s one good result. We are going to enjoy it and take a lot of confidence from it but we go to Perpignan on Sunday and that is bound to be extremely physical, probably harder even than beating Munster. We’re going there with a win, though, and we’ll be giving it everything we can.”
Having waited until their fifth Euro match last year to notch a try, Scott’s score in which he bumped aside Casey Laulala was a tonic after five minutes, Laidlaw slotting the first of seven successful kicks in a row with the conversion.
A penalty followed before the scrum half’s charged down clearance led Keatley converting a Laulala try after landing a penalty.
Again Edinburgh went ahead through Laidlaw before a scrum infringement allowed Mike Sherry to bore over but from 13-17 behind Edinburgh turned round leading thanks to a couple more penalties.
Keatley’s marksmanship appeared to put the visitors in charge but his 63rd minute strike was Munster’s last contribution to a match where Dave Denton carried brilliantly and new signing Cornell du Preez tackled his heart out.
Cue Visser’s seventh tournament try and five more points from Laidlaw who saw his 78th minute penalty from long range – which would have denied the visitors a losing bonus point – cannon back off the crossbar. That caused some anxiety in the home ranks with Munster attempting to break-out from deep but a stranglehold held for a side whose 29-point tally has only been bettered six times in their last 63 tournament fixtures.
Edinburgh: Tries: Scott, Visser. Conversions: Laidlaw (2). Penalties: Laidlaw (5).
Munster: Tries: Laulala, Sherry. Conversions: Keatley (2). Penalties: Keatley (3).
Edinburgh: Cuthbert, Fife, De Luca, Scott, Visser, Leonard, Laidlaw (Captain), Dickinson (Blaauw, 71), Ford, Nel (Cross, 70), Gilchrist, Cox, Basilaia (Grant, 61), Denton, De Preez. Unused subs: Lutui, Atkins, Kennedy, Dominguez, Hidalgo-Clyne.
Munster: Jones (Hanrahan, 66), Earls, Laulala, Downey (Hurley, 60), Zebo (Williams, 72), Keatley, Murray, Kilcoyne (Botha, 53), Sherry (Varley, 58), Archer (Botha, 53), Ryan, O’Connell, Butler (Stander, 54), Coughlan, Ronan (O’Callaghan, 64).
Referee: J-P Doyle (England).