When Duncan Hodge came to speak to the press on Saturday night, it was not with the air of a man who had just witnessed his side make a famous fightback for a potentially season-saving triumph over one of European rugby’s biggest clubs.
The acting head coach was obviously happy and relieved with the dramatic 28-23 win over French aristocrats Stade Francais but, in the battle for his emotions, it was evident that anger at the hole which had been dug was winning over the pride at seeing his troops emerge from it.
This was a match which pushed the “game of two halves” cliche to almost silly levels as Edinburgh clawed their way back from what seemed an impossible 20-3 half-time deficit, not to mention the loss of centre Phil Burleigh to a red card early in the second period, and somehow managed to eke out a win that keeps them sitting proudly at the top of Pool 5 in the European Challenge Cup.
Before allowing himself to bask in the glow of victory, however, Hodge had some serious grievances to get off his chest first.
“The first half just wasn’t us, not even close,” he said with a shake of the head. “I can handle mistakes, but not the way we performed – there was a lack of energy, we were walking to lineouts, walking to scrums. We were playing against a team who we needed to beat with tempo.
“We think we’re fitter than them and we’re just slow on everything. It was just nowhere near good enough.
“I don’t know why that was. There were some pretty straight words at half-time. The huge plus out of this is that we had a big, big challenge on our hands under pressure and we came through it. Throw in a red card – and I haven’t even thought about that too much – and we’ve gone from 20-3 down after 40 minutes and we’ve won the game despite a red card with 25 minutes to go.
“That’s something the players should be proud of but it also proves the point. This was a little synopsis of where we’re at – how can we be that bad and then that good. That’s the frustrating thing and I’m still really angry about it.”
Edinburgh now face a swift turnaround to Thursday’s return match in Paris and know that, in the unforgiving European environment, the mantra has to be “keep on keeping on” as any defeat has the potential to be ruinous.
At half-time on Saturday evening it looked like that watershed reverse was on the cards as Stade cruised into a dominant lead with tries from centre Waisea Vuidarvuwalu and flanker Sekou Macalou, plus regular contributions from the boot of Morne Steyn.
Stand-off Duncan Weir got Edinburgh on the board with a solitary penalty but the former Glasgow man’s performance was a reflection of the whole team’s struggles in microcosm. Normally so reliable with the boot, he drove one penalty to corner out in goal and drifted a kick from hand out on the full.
He got his act together in the second period and that galvanised the home effort as tries by Damien Hoyland, Ben Toolis and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne dragged them within striking distance and a couple of Weir penalties finished the job.
Add in the fact they were down to 14 men for the bulk of that second period and, for all the failings of that opening 40, you must give huge credit to Edinburgh for an uplifting outcome you hope can be a gamechanger in terms of their stuttering season.
Burleigh’s red card was, by the letter of the law, correct but came with a bitter taste given the clear over-reaction by the towering lock Pascal Pape to the back’s slap to the face. The flick of a lettuce leaf saw the big man go down like a sack of spuds with a theatrical clasp of the face.
“I’m not saying it’s harsh,” said Hodge. “But I don’t like to see how they behaved as well. It’s disappointing and we’re raging – Phil’s upset, and I’m very angry with him because it is indiscipline. We’re in the wrong. There’s no getting away from that.”
Scrum-half Hidalgo-Clyne enjoyed the best moment of what has been a testing year when he stretched over for that crucial third try, but even he appeared more rankled by the first-half shocker than the thrill of victory.
“That was by no means anything to be proud of, first half certainly. We went out with a gameplan but didn’t execute at all,” he said.
“Mixed emotions I guess. Relieved to get the win but disappointment with how we played. It wasn’t good enough. But we earned it in the end, I wouldn’t say we were lucky.”