Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill praised his players’ composure as they fought back from behind three times to snatch a thrilling 34-33 win over Stade Francais at BT Murrayfield tonight and secure a home quarter-final in the European Challenge Cup.
All six tries of the match, three for each side, came in the second half of a dramatic game which went right down to the wire. Centre Junior Rasolea, who was a late promotion to the starting XV when Chris Dean pulled out, pounced on a chip over the French side’s line with two minutes remaining.
In front of Scotland boss Gregor Townsend, who was watching from the stand, full-back Blair Kinghorn kicked the conversion which sealed a one-point victory.
“I’m happy with the result. It was a game that had to be won, almost a knockout for us,” said Cockerill.
“They [Stade] actually turned up and played tonight. They were physical, picked a good side and meant business. I was pleased with the result.
“We can play a lot better but I’m delighted that we went behind three times and came back into it. We can learn lessons on how to manage a game better but I’m delighted with the players, to keep their composure and create opportunities to win the game. Credit to them.
“We could have lost it but we worked hard enough and we put ourselves into a position to win the game. It’s not all luck, we work bloody hard.”
It may be Europe’s second-tier tournament but it provided first-rate entertainment and drama. Centre Rasolea had only been promoted from the bench into the starting XV when Chris Dean was withdrawn before kick-off. Man-of-the-match Hamish Watson and stand-off Jaco van der Walt also touched down in a game which grew into an absolute thriller.
After former Scotland full-back Hugo Southwell, who played for both clubs, had presented the match ball, the game started in positive fashion for Edinburgh, who immediately pinned back the bright pink jerseys of the Parisians.
Edinburgh have now reached the knockout stage of this competition in three of the past four seasons, famously reaching the final in 2015 when they lost to Gloucester at Twickenham stoop.
Stade Francais were returning to the scene of their triumph in the tournament last May, when they had defeated Gloucester on the eve of last season’s Champions Cup final at BT Murrayfield.
Despite a fairly lacklustre defence thus far, with a lowly Top 14 league placing concerning the 14-time French champions more, they had moved themselves into a position where a couple of wins over the Scots in the last two Pool 4 games would probably see them through for another crack at the trophy.
Sam Hidalgo-Clyne provided a three-point return for Edinburgh’s early pressure, but Jules Plisson swiftly responded for the visitors as a cagey opening 15 minutes unfolded. Plisson then added another penalty to nudge his side in front. Edinburgh reasserted their themselves and Hidalgo-Clyne added two more from around the 40-metre mark, the second of which came after France international centre Jonathan Danty had been dispatched to the sin bin for a blatant obstruction at the breakdown.
Despite plenty of possession, the home team couldn’t add any further points during the one-man advantage but a good burst of intensity in the dying seconds of the first half reaped a penalty in front of the posts and Hidalgo-Clyne made no mistake to make it 12-6 at the break.
Plisson immediately halved the deficit as Edinburgh conceded straight after the restart and home nerves were soon jangling when a Hidalgo-Clyne knock-on from a lineout squandered possession and the French took full advantage.
Edinburgh won’t be particularly pleased with their defending as Sekou Macalou picked up and dotted down relatively unchallenged after a series of drives.
Plisson’s conversion had Stade 16-12 up and Edinburgh needed an immediate response. They got it in some style as Watson scorched through the defence from 25 metres out for a brilliant score.
Hidalgo-Clyne’s extras re-established the three-point lead but Plisson responded in kind to level things up.
A slow simmer of a match was suddenly starting to boil up and Stade struck another blow just before the try mark with a slick move in which wing Roman Martial cut through and centre Waisea Vuidarvuwalu got over despite a last-ditch tackle. Plisson’s conversion put his side seven points up. The action was now relentless and five minutes later Edinburgh stand-off Van der Walt scythed through down the right for another excellent try. With Hidalgo-Clyne off, replaced by Nathan Fowles, the South African took on the kicking duties but was just wide with the conversion.
He made amends six minutes later with a penalty but the hard-won lead was immediately thrown away when more soft defence allowed Giorgi Melikidze to try and Plisson converted. Edinburgh needed seven points to win and threw everything at their opponents.
They won a penalty and kicked to the corner before Fowles’ chip behind the posts bounced kindly for Rasolea to dot down and spark wild celebrations.
Kinghorn banged over the conversion and the final two minutes were nervily negotiated for a famous win.
Edinburgh: Tries: Watson, Van Der Walt, Rasolea. Cons: Hidalgo-Clyne, Kinghorn. Pens: Hidalgo-Clyne 4, Van Der Walt.
Stade Francais: Tries: Macalou, Nayacalevu, Melikidze. Cons: Plisson 3. Pens: Plisson 4.
Edinburgh: Kinghorn, Hoyland, Bennett, Rasolea, Van Der Merwe, Van Der Walt, Hidalgo-Clyne, Sutherland, McInally, McCallum, B. Toolis, Gilchrist, Bradbury, Watson, Mata. Subs: Fowles for Hidalgo-Clyne (57), Shields for Sutherland (67), McKenzie for B. Toolis (67), Ritchie for Mata (61). Not used: Cochrane, K. Bryce, Graham, Johnstone.
Stade Francais: Ensor, Martial, Nayacalevu, Danty, Arias, Plisson, McLeod, van der Merwe, Panis, Alo-Emile, Gabrillagues, Flanquart, De Giovanni, Ugena, Macalou. Subs: Daguin for McLeod (59), Zhvania for van der Merwe (61), Burden for Panis (67), Melikidze for Alo-Emile (67), Cerqueira for Gabrillagues (59), Meite for Macalou (72). Not used: Geraghty, Yobo.
Referee: Tom Foley (Eng).