If Alan Solomons had been told at the start of the Heineken Cup campaign that his Edinburgh side would defeat all three pool opponents then he would surely have anticipated a strong bid for a quarter-final spot.
But this has been a campaign of peaks and troughs for Edinburgh who, when the dust settled yesterday, found themselves defeated 38-6 at Munster and 11 points adrift of the pool winners.
“We have won three of the six pool games, which is very good for us at the start of what we are trying to build and I’m happy with our Heineken Cup,” said Solomons. “We have learned some lessons along the way and it is part of the growth of this team.
“But this wasn’t a good day for us. We didn’t perform well and we played for 20 minutes with 14 men. That takes it out of you. If you make errors against Munster you will pay for them.”
Edinburgh never looked like getting the result yesterday which would have given them an Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final spot to look forward to in April.
The team battled gamely in the opening half but, put simply, Munster’s need was greater and a capacity 25,600 demanded nothing less than the win by a bonus point which would secure a home quarter-final.
Munster duly delivered, making the most of the controversial binning of flanker Cornell du Preez just before the break, to take control after the restart and by the close of business they had a mouth-watering clash at Thomond Park in April to look forward to.
Edinburgh’s fixture rostrum is considerably less glamorous, three successive PRO 12 ties away to the Dragons, Connacht and Scarlets without their international players.
“Our focus has been wanting to earn respect from our opponents, from our supporters and from the rugby public and we are going to be focused on doing that week on week through the PRO 12.
“It is going to be an important phase for us because we are now going to play for the first time without our internationals,” Solomons pointed out.
Edinburgh kept the unlikely dream of an April European fixture alive until half-time.
They didn’t roll over easily but they never looked like getting a try from a lot of early pressure. However a couple of penalties from Greig Laidlaw ensured they were still in the contest when they trailed by just 12-6 at the break.
James Coughlan, left out of the Irish squad in midweek, got Munster rolling on his way to a man-of-the-match display by barging over after eight minutes, while a move off the back of a scrum saw Johne Murphy sprint home after 22 minutes.
The binning of flanker Du Preez for supposedly leading with the head in trying to clear out Irish captain Paul O’Connell on the stroke of the interval provided the gap which the Red Army burst through after the restart.
“What concerned me most was Cornell going off. That was a major, major moment in the game. They obviously feel that the clean-out constitutes foul play. I would have to study the thing very carefully before I could comment on it, but it was a big decision as it had a major influence at that point.
“Coming out of half-time they went up 19-6 and then the game starts to go beyond you and then later on again we had another yellow card, which made it very, very difficult,” said Solomons, who saw prop Geoff Cross binned for bringing down a maul late in the game.
The key score came four minutes after the restart when Conor Murray sniped over after a wave of attacks and it was apparent then it would be only a matter of time before the fourth try was delivered.
Skipper Peter O’Mahony duly landed that one after another sustained bout of recycling pressure after 57 minutes.
In fairness, Edinburgh battled away until the end but Munster sealed the win with Simon Zebo darting over in the left corner and Felix Jones wrapped it up with a try in the same corner five minutes from time.
Munster: Tries: J Coughlan, J Murphy, C Murray, P O’Mahony, S Zebo, F Jones. Cons: I Keatley (4)
Edinburgh: Pens: G Laidlaw (2)
Munster: F Jones; K Earls (S Zebo 25), C Laulala, J Downey (JJ Hanrahan 53), J Murphy; I Keatley, C Murray (D Williams 70); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 60), D Varley (D Casey 67), S Archer (BJ Botha 59), D Foley, P O’Connell (D O’Callaghan 67), P O’Mahony capt (P Butler 67-77), T O’Donnell, J Coughlan.
Edinburgh: J Cuthbert; D Fife, N De Luca, B Atiga (J Dominguez 53-59), T Brown; G Tonks (C Bezuidenhout 60), G Laidlaw capt (G Hart 60); A Dickinson (L Blaauw 67), R Ford, W Nel (G Cross 60), G Gilchrist, I Van Der Westhuizen (O Atkins 49), C Du Preez, R Grant (T Leonardi 59) (W Nel 80), D Denton.
Referee: W Barnes (RFU).