On the day that an estimated 600,000 people marched in London in favour of remaining in Europe, Edinburgh Rugby made their own small statement in favour of a long stint in Europe’s premier club competition after dismantling three-time winners Toulon 40-14.
Admittedly the French side, who sit one place above the relegation zone in Top 14, only turned up midway through this match after a roasting in the half-time sheds. The French behemoths were so spectacularly bad in the first 40 on Saturday that you wondered for a moment if cricket’s betting problem had crossed over into rugby.
Edinburgh scored four good tries and it could have been more but for a few chances that went astray and but for the referee JP Doyle who pinged two home players for repeatedly rolling on the ground.
Toulon muscled up after the break and scored a second try to go with their first-half effort from Romain Taofifenua, but Edinburgh’s defence has never looked to organised or committed. It restricted to two tries a back division boasting the second highest scoring All Black in history, an almost unrecognisable Julian Savea, another All Black in centre Malakai Fekitoa and the French skipper Matthieu Bastereaud.
All this from a side that recently leaked five tries to the previously unheralded Benetton attack. One man in particular understands the rollercoaster nature of professional rugby better than most. Matt Scott carried the can for that defensive lapse against Benetton; dropped by coach Cockerill without ceremony. On Saturday, against far superior opposition, Scott was at his imperious best.
He made one audacious break from deep in the first half that almost saw Hamish Watson score, he sliced open the Toulon defence for Henry Pyrgos’ try – as canny a piece of skill as we saw all afternoon – and he defended like a demon all afternoon, making good decisions as well as good tackles. The midfielder is one of the few Edinburgh players who were around when the club defeated Toulouse in the quarter-finals of the competition back in 2012.
“It was similar because it was a massive home game against a European powerhouse,” said the centre. “There was a good feeling all week. It’s the same for Test matches and massive club games like this, you get an increase in intensity throughout the week and everyone is focused.
“We said during the week that our team spirit and teamwork and workrate would cause them a lot of problems, and they definitely did.
“We showed our intention to play. We weren’t scared of testing their front five in the middle of the park. We talked about that a lot during the week. They have a lot of their big, big men in the centre of the park.
“It was the same for Henry’s try, with Blair [Kinghorn] running across their front row. I went through on a cut play. Fair play to the coaches who prepared us well for that. We knew that if we could get that extra pass away rather than just bash through them we would be able to manipulate them. It’s nice when it comes off.”
Ben Toolis opened the scoring for Edinburgh after they displayed huge ambition by running a sure thing under the Toulon posts. Pyrgos got the second and Jaco van der Walt added two conversions and four penalties to give Edinburgh a 26-7 lead at the break.
Skipper Stuart McInally grabbed the third almost immediately after the restart but it wasn’t until seven minutes from time that replacement Chris Dean got the all important bonus-point try from an interception. “
It was a defensive try so Kitty [Calum MacRae] the defence coach will be happy with,” said Scott. “It just shows the revolution we have had since the start of the season.”