THERE was a strange mood among the Edinburgh players after their 23-18 win in London.
They had just broken the Harlequins’ home record extending back to March; they had pretty well guaranteed themselves a place in the European Challenge Cup quarter-final; and they had produced their most complete performance of the season. Yet they were still subdued and a bit angry with themselves.
The reason? Holding a 23-6 lead in the final 72 seconds, they somehow conceded two tries in the time remaining. It did not affect the result or their standing in the competition, but the final emotion hangs on; in this case that was irritation.
“We always knew it would be hard to come here and get a win,” said Magnus Bradbury, the flanker who had another storming game. “It was great, we had them under their posts for most of the game.
“A win is a win but, at the end of the day, we are frustrated to let them get two tries in the final minutes. That is something we have to sort out, those type of fine margins could come back to haunt us later in the competition.”
As a professional sportsman he is right to be cross about the finale, but it did not affect anything important. The remaining 78 minutes were what mattered and for that time they were by far the better team against last season’s losing finalists in the same competition.
Bradbury and his back row colleagues were all over the park tackling like demons to make sure that even in the extended periods when Harlequins were dominating possession and territory, they did not really look like scoring a try.
In the end, the man of the match award went to Hamish Watson – who must surely have cemented his place in the Scotland squad to be announced on Wednesday – but in reality it could have gone to any of the back row.
Cornell Du Preez produced a couple of sublime offloads in the build-up to both the Edinburgh tries, while Bradbury himself made ground with the ball and tackled ferociously.
“It is always good to get a win – I am happy with my own performance and if Vern [Cotter, the Scotland coach] picks me on that then I will be more than happy,” he said philosophically.
“For me, it is a question of keeping doing the things that Duncan Hodge, Peter Wilkins and Stevie Scott, my club coaches, want me to do – working on the things I need to work on and keep transferring that to how the team plays. If the coaches are happy with me then it is all good.
“We knew they would come out, try to chuck the ball about and get those easy yards. To keep them out with what they were throwing at us is huge credit to the boys.”
The result should guarantee them a home quarter-final in the tournament when it resumes at the start of April.
First they have to do the business against Timisoara Saracens when they open their new home at Myreside on Friday, but if that goes to plan, there is nothing their rivals can do to prevent them topping the pool.
It all came about as the result of a traditional combination of rock-solid defence and an ability to seize the chances when they came. Add Duncan Weir’s 100 per cent goalkicking, converting both tries and adding three penalties, and they were out of sight before the fightback started.
Though the forwards got most of the plaudits and both the tries, it was the ability of the backs to spot the space and get the ball there that made the big difference.
Blair Kinghorn, who certainly put himself into contention for a spot in the Scotland squad, laid on the attacking position for the first with the forwards keeping the pressure on until Fraser McKenzie unleashed a killer sidestep to break through and score.
The second try started with Du Preez’s offload to Watson who made it into the 22 before getting the ball away to Allan Dell as he was tackled and the prop ran it in.
The late try for Mat Luamanu and even later one for Joe Gray took a little gloss off the win but it was still special.
Harlequins: Try: Luamanu, Gray. Con: Jackson. Pens. Swiel (2).
Edinburgh: Tries: McKenzie, Dell. Cons: Weir (2). Pens: Weir (3).
Harelquins: M Brown; M Yarde, A Alofa (M Hopper, 56), J Marchant, C Walker; T Swiel (R Jackson, 57), D Care (C) (K Dickson, 68); D Murphy (A Jones, 57), R Buchanan (J Gray, 70), K Sinckler (sin bin: 50-60), G Merrick (M Luamanu, 57), C Matthews, J Chisholm (sin bin: 28-38, L Wallace, 57), D Ward (M Shields, 58-60, sin bin: 70-end], J Clifford.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Hoyland, C Dean, P Burleigh (M Allen, 74), T Brown; D Weir (J Tovey, 70), S Kennedy (S Hidalgo-Clyne, 68); A Dell (J Cosgrove, 70), R Ford (C) (N Cochrane, 57), WP Nel (S Berghan, 27), F McKenzie (L Carmichael, 68), B Toolis, M Bradbury, H Watson, C Du Preez (V Mata, 64).
Referee: D Wilkinson (Ireland)