Edinburgh got the bonus-point win they needed to keep their hopes of reaching the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals alive last night but made hard work of it with a laboured display against the Pool 5 makeweights.
A soporific first half, in which Magnus Bradbury marked only his second start for the club with the only try, was followed by an equally uninspiring second 40.
Edinburgh got there in the end as scores from Mike Coman, Greig Tonks and man-of-the-match Hamish Watson took last year’s runners-up temporarily to the top of the pool. They will travel to Grenoble, who face London Irish in Reading today, next weekend for the final match of the pool stage.
Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons said: “We had to build our innings, to use the cricketing term. The important thing was to get the bonus-point win to stay in contention, that was absolutely crucial and we managed to get it.
Asked about who he would prefer to win today’s other Pool 5 clash between London Irish and Grenoble, Solomons commented: “Probably a draw would be good for us. That would be the ideal result.”
The South African coach accepted that next Saturday’s trip to Grenoble would require a big step up in performance. “They will be tough out there, no question about that. But it’s good that we’re still in with a shout going into the last game. We know it’s an important and we’ll need to play well.
“We have the capability we just have to perform really well on the night.”
There was a late change to the Edinburgh line-up as Mike Allen failed to take his place at centre due to a sickness bug and Chris Dean was moved up from the bench and wing Tom Brown covering on the bench.
After a tepid opening half hour, only Tonks’ penalty from bang in front of the posts separated the sides. It should have been all square but Tonks’ opposite number Francois Bouvier failed to take advantage of a penalty chance that was almost as straight-forward.
Agen were reduced to 14 men when tighthead Nicolas Chocou was yellow carded and Edinburgh began to turn the screw through their tried and trusted forward play. They came close to scoring only for No.8 Bradbury to be held up.
The home side continued to build the pressure as the clock ticked towards the interval and, after winning a penalty in front of the posts for the French side not rolling away, Tonks took a tap and spread the ball left. It ended up in the arms of Bradbury and the 20-year-old prospect was not to be denied this time as he forced his way over at the corner. Tonks was close with the difficult conversion attempt from the touchline but it was to remain just 8-0 at the break.
Coach Alan Solomons clearly felt a fresh injection was needed and didn’t wait long into the second half to throw on Neil Cochrane, Anton Bresler and club captain Coman on in place of starting skipper Stuart McInally, Alex Toolis and the tryscorer Bradbury.
The French side were playing with an admirable spirit given that they had lost all four of their pool games so far, were long gone from the competition and embroiled in a desperate fight against relegation back in their domestic league.
French resistance was finally broken on the hour mark when Will Helu’s surge down the left opened up Agen and after a few phases of possession it was Coman who forced his way over.
Tonks missed the fairly easy conversion to keep it at 13-0 but it was tries on Edinburgh minds now. A wild pass into touch from Andries Strauss epitomised Edinburgh’s struggles but Tonks danced over minutes later for try No.3 but failed to convert again.
As the French wilted, Watson finished off a driving maul to get the all-important fourth try.
Tonks again missed the extras but it was job done, albeit in less than thrilling style.
Solomons added: “In the last 20 minutes we started to get on top of them, the subs made a big difference, but that is part of building the innings. You have your opening batsmen and then the subs came on and did a bit of a Ben Stokes if you will. I felt that tactically we needed to make changes [after 45 minutes]. The three lads who came on all did very well.”
Edinburgh: Tries: Bradbury, Coman, Tonks, Watson; Pen: Tonks
Edinburgh: J Cuthbert; D Hoyland, C Dean, A Strauss, W Helu; G Tonks, S Kennedy; R Sutherland, S McInally, J Andress, A Toolis, B Toolis, J Ritchie, H Watson, M Bradbury. Subs: N Cochrane, G Shiells, S Berghan, A Bresler, M Coman, N Fowles, T Brown, D Fife.
AGEN: B Sicart; F Tardieu, V Roux, P Fouyssac, F Nakosi; F Bouvier, P Abadie; Q Bethune, M Barthomeuf, N Chocou, L Bastien, C Braendlin, S Tau, D Marchois, M Baget. Subs: F Dufour, V Afatia, F Vergnon, N Gal, B Cadiou, C Darbo, A Conduche
Referee: I Davies (Wales)