Edinburgh booked a home semi-final in the European Challenge Cup against Newport Gwent Dragons on Friday April 17 after a thrilling 23-18 result over London Irish.
It was a game Edinburgh almost let slip, with London Irish held up over the line in the last play of the game.
It was tough, and as head coach Alan Solomons said: “I thought the side showed tremendous character and tremendous commitment to come through that game. And to be honest with you, they absolutely deserve it.
He continued: “For the first 20 minutes we dominated, there was like a lull for 12, we got 16 points, but between the 32nd and the 52nd minute they (Irish) completely dominated. It was a total swing in the momentum of the game, which you have, and then we managed to get back in through Fraz (Fraser McKenzie) with that try and then we had that drama at the end.”
Edinburgh put in a mature performance, and when opposition hooker David Paice was driven over the line in the last play of the match, Alasdair Dickinson held it up and forced referee Pascal Gauzere and his TMO to rule ‘no try’ and award Edinburgh the win. It was certainly high drama.
It was hard in the end, but Edinburgh got off to a flyer. Eventual man of the match Sam Hidalgo-Clyne helped himself to a monstrous opening penalty fairly soon after the opening whistle as Irish skipper George Skivington threw a high shot in defence.
When Edinburgh again worked into the Irish 22 and kicked to the corner from a penalty, Irish were in disarray. From the resulting maul WP Nel sheered off, spun and found the try-line begging. The points kept coming.
Tom Guest came offside; Hidalgo-Clyne kicked a penalty. Skivington shoved in the lineout and again Hidalgo-Clyne added three points. It felt like a stilted game and with the Aviva Premiership pack dropping crumbs over the Edinburgh line, leaving passes behind and generally making little of their possession, it looked like the result was a foregone conclusion.
Edinburgh had not been tested past five or six phases, though. So after Shane Geraghty finally recovered to kick a penalty, he was afforded a run at creating some rugby.
Edinburgh’s defence was stretched at the centres a few phases in and after barrelling hooker Paice led Irish forward, it was try on. Geraghty skipped and slung it, Eamonn Sheridan had a nice inside pass, and as Blair Cowan tried to pretend he wasn’t standing in the way, his back-row partner Conor Gilsenan galloped in for a converted try that made it 10-16 at the half.
Steeled, Irish started the second half much better, and the deficit was just three as Roddy Grant infringed and Geraghty again took the points. Affronted by the fight back, Edinburgh looked momentarily bereft of calm.
Irish upped the tempo. Cowan interested defenders, deep. Paice nudged forward. Geraghty chipped. Substitute Tom Fowlie caught it and Scott Steele scooped up and jumped in the corner to take the lead with a try.
Last season this Edinburgh side may perhaps have wilted and accepted that the host team were resurgent and wanted the win. But instead sprightly Hidalgo-Clyne pushed his pack to carry forward. They marched on and with his back-rowers creating quick ball it was worked to Dougie Fife. He stepped inside, pushing towards the line and with Andries Strauss having to dig in and pass it as a makeshift No 9, McKenzie arrived just in time to slip between defenders like a fiver through a drain and retake the lead with a try.
Irish rebounded and hustled but it was never enough. They knocked on over the line but won another penalty. They pulled everyone into the lineout and fell, but got another penalty. They ran it back again, but Paice burped the ball up.
The Irish hooker could have redeemed himself as he carried one more time over the line and over last-ditch defenders Alasdair Dickinson and Hidalgo-Clyne. But after numerous replays the officials blew time and gave Edinburgh another uplifting European semi-final to look forward to – and this time it’s a home tie.
Scorers: London Irish: Try: Gilsenan, Steele. Con: Geraghty. Pen: Geraghty 2. Edinburgh: Try: Nel, McKenzie. Con: Hidalgo-Clyne 2. Pen. Hidalgo-Clyne 3.
London Irish: Fenby (Fowlie 40); Ojo, Griffin, Sheridan, Lewington; Geraghty, Steele (Allinson 70); Court (Parr 70), Paice, Aulika (Halavatau 50), Skivington, Rouse, Gilsenan, Cowan, Guest (Narraway 70).
Edinburgh: Tonks; Fife, Burleigh, Strauss (Beard 70), Visser; Heathcote (Brown 61), Hidalgo-Clyne; Dickinson (Sutherland 66), Ford (McInally 51), Nel, Bresler (McKenzie 51), Toolis, Grant, Watson, Denton.