Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley admitted his team got out of jail against his former club in Galway on Saturday night – but felt they were long overdue a break in a tight finish, winning 23-24.
Edinburgh had struggled to put away an under-strength Connacht side and looked set to pay the price when former Galsgow Warrior Dan Parks lined up a potential match-winning drop goal in the final minute, but proceeded to skew the ball wide.
“We got out of jail in the end. It ebbed and flowed. We had chances to get a commanding lead. We were eight points ahead with ten minutes to go, but Connacht came straight back into it.
“They capitalised on a poor kick by ourselves and they created pressure and got an excellent score in the corner. Then Parksy kicks the conversion off the left post and it is back down to one point, you are in the Sportsground, they have 4000 behind them and this is not going to be a pleasant finish and it wasn’t,” said Bradley.
But Edinburgh did hold on to make it two wins on the bounce, and Bradley felt they were due a break after coming out the wrong side of so many tight results this season.
“We have lost matches this year which we never should have lost and this was probably a match we could have lost, too. We had a very strong side out there and we didn’t play like a side that has a lot of top players, so we have got a bit of work to do there for sure.
“But other games we played this year we played very well and have not managed to get over the line.
“We have lost four or five games by one score and we have won three games by one score, so it has been very tight for us all season, but we should be able to put a bit of space between us and other sides if we work better than we did. And we just were not able to do it because Connacht kept the pressure on us.”
Bradley said he had sympathy for his former colleague Eric Elwood, the Connacht coach, and was not at all surprised that it went down to the wire.
“We talked after the game and I think Eric, who is always a phenomenal competitor, will be disappointed that Connacht didn’t win the match, but he should be very proud of the way the boys performed.
“It is not about heart or anything like that – that’s a given here – but tactically they were very good and kept the pressure on us, particularly in the first half, and didn’t let us settle at all.
“They got in among us again in the second half and we got a couple of lucky breaks. We got 14 points from block-downs and kick-throughs, so Eric will be disappointed with that, but his lads were fantastic.”
Elwood’s men seemed poised to snatch victory a minute from time when Parks went into the pocket, but his effort from outside the “22” in front of the posts went agonisingly wide of the right post.
It was a cruel finish as Parks had been outstanding all evening against an Edinburgh side who started with nine current internationalists.
An under-strength Connacht side needed a positive start, but instead they gifted Edinburgh an early try when a promising attack broke down inside the “22” for the Scots to counter and Tim Visser displayed his trademark speed to score his tenth try of the campaign, with Greig Laidlaw’s conversion making it 7-0 after five minutes.
But the Connacht response was excellent and, after a Parks cross-field kick forced a line-out when Nick De Luca had to step in touch, the home pack got a great drive going with Jason Harris-Wright getting the touchdown and Parks equalising with the conversion.
Laidlaw responded with a penalty almost immediately and with both teams willing to go wide there was plenty for the crowd to enjoy. Parks tied the game after 17 minutes with a penalty from 30 metres after a late tackle on Robbie Henshaw by Perry Parker.
Connacht, already without 17 injured players, then lost captain Gavin Duffy who limped off after 23 minutes in his first start since a hamstring problem in September. The tempo of the game dropped after that with both defences on top, but Edinburgh edged in front five minutes from the break when Laidlaw chipped inside the “22” for Matt Scott to take the ball at pace and elude the tackle of Parks to score beside the posts. Laidlaw converted to make it 17-10.
But Connacht finished the half strongly and Parks’ value to the side was again emphasised three minutes from the break when he landed a difficult 35-metre penalty from the right wing to leave in 17-13 at the interval.
Scott should have grabbed a second try ten minutes after the restart but knocked-on with the line in sight having done all the hard work, before Parks reduced the deficit to the minimum with a penalty from distance on the right.
Edinburgh looked the more threatening going into the final quarter and Laidlaw created the opening which sent Stuart McInally racing through to score 15 minutes from time, with Laidlaw’s conversion making it 24-16.
That suggested Connacht might not even get a bonus point, but they set up a gripping finish with a fleeting move from right to left which finished with Danie Poolman sliding over in the left corner.
Parks landed the touchline conversion to leave just a point between them going into the final ten minutes, but Connacht just could not conjure a winning score, with Parks going so close with his late drop goal effort from just outside the “22” as Edinburgh survived a hectic finish to head back into their faltering Heineken Cup campaign against Racing Metro on the back of two hard-earned victories.
SCORERS: Connacht: Tries: Harris-Wright, Poolman. Cons: Parks (2). Pens: Parks (3). Edinburgh: Tries: Visser, Scott, McInally. Cons: Laidlaw (3). Pens: Laidlaw.
Connacht: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, D Poolman, D McSharry, G Duffy; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, R Loughney, M Kearney, A Browne, J O’Connor, W Faloon, E McKeon. Replacements: F Vainikolo for Duffy 23; D Buckley for Wilkinson 54; P O’Donohoe for Marmion, 58; JP Cooney for Loughney, 66; D Qualter for O’Connor, 71.
Edinburgh: G Tonks; T Brown, N De Luca, M Scott, T Visser; G Laidlaw, R Rees; A Jacobsen, A Titterrell, W Nel, P Parker, S Cox, D Denton, R Grant, S McInally. Replacements: J Yapp for Jacobsen 50; I Van Der Westhuizen for Parker, 50; C Leck for Rees, 59.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR)