Edinburgh have hardly made a habit of winning away in the Heineken Cup but they had enough wit to spot a London Irish side ripe for the upsetting. With a dollop of collaboration from a cantankerous Shontayne Hape, the Scottish side made the ideal start to Pool Two.
Hape's fourth appearance for Irish since his summer transfer from Bath turned into something of a running battle with Edinburgh's back row. Perhaps it was the lack of firepoweroutside him – Irish had five front-line back three players missing, as well as the No 8 Chris Hala'Ufia – that prompted Hape to take a little of the law into his own hands.
An unpunished tackle around the chest that may have ridden up into the chin forced the dazed Edinburgh flanker David Denton off after 27 minutes. Denton's replacement, Sean Cox, soon got into an angry shoving match with Hape after the latter narrowly failed to ground a try.
And so it went on, with Cox gettingaway with an off-the-ball forearm into Hape's face. Climactically, Hape was pulled up by an assistant referee for a late shoulder charge and went to the sin-bin. The resulting penalty, kicked by the replacement scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, gave Edinburgh the lead after 69 minutes and when Tom Homer missed a penalty for Irish five minutes later, the game was just about up.
Still it required some good defence by the visitors, including their No 8, Stuart McInally, coaxing the ball intelligently away from a troublesome scrum near his own 22 at the last knockings. All of that pleased the Edinburgh coach, Michael Bradley, as much as the tries scored by the wing Lee Jones in the first half and McInally in the second.
But while Edinburgh celebrated a second win in 24 Heineken Cup away matches since 2004, London Irish's Toby Booth bemoaned missed chances and missing talent. "Five of our most potent players were unavailable," said the coach, referring to Delon Armitage, Sailosi Tagicakibau, Marland Yarde, Jonathan Joseph and Topsy Ojo, the last of whom was a late cry-off, obliging the Scotland back Joe Ansbro to make his debut in the starting XV. "That's not an excuse, that's just fact." Of Hape's sin-bin offence, Booth said: "The ones you need to worry about are the ones that are dull and not part of a competitive game. The ones that are cheap are coach-killers." It was not clear which category he felt Hape's fitted into.
Irish had scraped into the Heineken Cup as sixth-placed finishers in the Premiership and they almost certainly need an away win now to avoid the earliest possible exit. Only Ojo of the missing men is likely to return for the trip to face the Cardiff Blues on Friday.
Edinburgh answered the damning criticism that Scottish teams do not deserve to qualify as of right. They were easy on the eye in their first try, with a thrust by Tim Visser helping to outflank the covering lock Matt Garvey. Jones ran it in. The 19-year-old fly-half Harry Leonard kicked the conversion and a penalty but missed twice; so too Jim Thompson, the full-back and grandson of the late Bill McLaren watched by his dad Derek, the TV racing commentator.
When Leonard ceded the kicking to Laidlaw near the end of the third quarter, Edinburgh were 19-10 down. Ross Samson, formerly of Edinburgh, had finished off a sweeping Irish attack in the 30th minute, added to by a conversion and three penalties from Homer. Surely Irish would pull away? Instead, from a ruck on the Irish 22, Edinburgh attacked to the left with a lovely fingertip pass by Nick De Luca and McInally dived in at the corner. Laidlaw converted.
There might have been another try when Visser reached his 6ft 5in out of Nick Kennedy's tackle but the television match official decided the wing had lost control. The referee, Romain Poite, came back for Hape's shoulder-charging offence.
Dan Bowden tried and failed with a drop-goal before Homer's 74th-minute miss, and Edinburgh held on for a win which, followed by anotherat home to Racing Métro on Friday, might have them thinking of a first quarter-final in eight attempts.
London Irish T Homer; J Ansbro, S Shingler, S Hape, A Thompstone; D Bowden (capt), R Samson (P Hodgson, 66); A Corbisiero (M Lahiff, 53), J Buckland (B Blaney, 70), P Ion (F Rautenbach, 53), N Kennedy, M Garvey (J Sandford, 62), B Evans, J Sinclair, J Gibson (R Thorpe, 62).
Edinburgh J Thompson; L Jones, N De Luca, M Scott, T Visser; H Leonard, M Blair (G Laidlaw, 47); A Jacobsen, R Ford (capt), G Cross (L Niven, 21-24), E Lozada, G Gilchrist, D Denton (S Cox, 27), S McInally, R Rennie (R Grant, 47).
Referee R Poite (France).
Pens: Homer 4
Tries: Jones, McInally
Cons: Leonard, Laidlaw
Pens: Leonard, LaidlawReuse content