Edinburgh made things difficult for themselves at times, but in the end they got the bonus-point win that their superiority merited to kick off their Challenge Cup campaign in satisfying style.
There were errors in abundance, and a couple of stages at which London Irish threatened to fight their way back into a contest that should have been out of their reach, but the main point is that Richard Cockerill’s team are now top of Pool 4. They next face an intriguing trip to Moscow to take on a Krasny Yar team who are behind them only on points differential after a surprise 34-29 win over holders Stade Francais.
The Edinburgh coach by no means expects to have an easy time of it in Moscow, but he is confident that as long as his team maintain their composure they can win again. “We just need to make sure that we do our things right,” Cockerill said. “If we do that we’ll be good enough to beat them. I’ve watched a little bit of footage of them, and you’d like to think that if we’re anywhere near right we’ll get a positive result. But if you don’t go with the right attitude you can get unstuck, as Stade did today.”
Edinburgh had first-half tries from Damien Hoyland and Junior Rasolea (with two) to thank for putting them in the driving seat against Irish, and although they took frustratingly long to put the game to bed, they added two more late in the second half through Jamie Ritchie and Luke Crosbie. “They put a young side out, we had a bit of experience, and if you look at the two squads you’d think that we should probably win,” Cockerill said of the home side. “I think the score flattered us a little bit, and to be fair to Irish I thought it was a very combative and competitive game.”
“To come away from home and get a better performance ball in hand was important. I was disappointed last week how we played against Zebre, and I thought we were much better today, certainly in the first half – three tries that were all well constructed. If we had been a little more accurate and a bit more ambitious at times we could probably have got a little bit more than that.”
Irish stand-off Theo Brophy Clews opened the scoring with a 10th-minute penalty, but Edinburgh took charge of the game with two tries midway through the half. Hoyland got the first, breaking free of a poorly-timed tackle, then Rasolea ran in the second from a Chris Dean pass after an overlap had been created on the left.
Irish got back into the game after half an hour, with tighthead prop Ollie Hoskins managing to barge his way over the line, but Sam Hidalgo-Clyne was on target with a penalty before Rasolea claimed his own second try and his team’s third. Brophy Clews got the last score before the break to make it 11-20, and kept his team in touch with another penalty 10 minutes into the second half.
Hidalgo-Clyne, on his best form of the season so far, soon replied in kind, however, and Edinburgh steadily got on top thereafter, even if they only managed to apply the coup de grace after after flanker Conor Gilsenan had been sinbinned for an offence in the ruck inside his own 22.
Ritchie was first to take advantage of the extra man to score, finishing off from close quarters, and then Crosbie got his first score for Edinburgh colours, breaking out of a tired tackle for try No 5.
“The scoreboard doesn’t lie,” London Irish director of rugby Nick Kennedy said. “Edinburgh took their tries well. They had that period in the first half where they did well and finished strongly. We were very much in the game at times.”
They were, but crucially, they did not score enough points at those times. Had they done so they might well have sown some self-doubt in the Edinburgh ranks. Instead, Cockerill’s team were able to emerge with their self-confidence modestly but measurably enhanced, setting themselves up nicely for that trip to Russia.
London Irish: B Ransom; J Cokanasiga, T Fowlie, J Williams, T Ojo (B Loader 73); T Brophy Clews (J Atkins 77), B Meehan (S Steele 54); H Elrington (T Smallbone 62), T Woolstencroft (T Gleave 54), O Hoskins (L Chawatama 62), W Lloyd (J Cooke 72), J McNally, M Northcote-Green, C Gilsenan, L Lomidze (I Curtis-Harris 54).
Edinburgh: G Bryce; D Fife, C Dean, J Rasolea (T Brown 79), D Hoyland (J Harries 66); J Tovey (N Fowles 73), S Hidalgo-Clyne; A Dell (D Marfo 49), S McInally (N Cochrane 62), S Berghan (W Nel 52), F McKenzie (G Gilchrist 57), B Toolis, J Ritchie, J Hardie (L Crosbie 66), C du Preez.
Scorers: London Irish: Try: Hopkins. Pens: Brophy Clews 3.
Edinburgh: Tries: Hoyland, Rasolea 2, Ritchie, Crosbie. Cons: Tovey, Hidalgo-Clyne 2. Pens: Hidalgo-Clyne 2.
Yellow card: Gilsenan (London Irish) 76.
Referee: D Jones (Wales).