Edinburgh duly got their first win of the Guinness PRO14 season but made heavy weather of subduing Connacht at a damp Murrayfield and were left hanging on for the victory after dominating for an hour.
Tries from Duhan van der Merwe and prop Pierre Schoeman had the capital side 17-0 to the good with a quarter to play and apparently set fair to drive home a huge advantage in possession, territory and penalty count in the final minutes.
However Connacht turned the momentum in their favour, got within bonus point range with a converted try and penalty and were pressing for an equalising score when Edinburgh’s defence finally stemmed the tide.
Grant Gilchrist was given man of the match but Hamish Watson was particularly prominent in his return from a brief paternity leave and the front row were well on top in the scrummage.
Gilchrist thought Edinburgh were in control for the majority of the game, but conceded they had made things difficult for themselves.
“We had pressure on and forced a lot of penalties but maybe didn’t take full advantage,” said the Scotland lock. “It’s our first win of the season in our first home game, and it’s definitely something we can build on.”
Richard Cockerill was clearly frustrated by a hugely lop-sided penalty count but only one yellow card for Connacht despite being penalised 15 times, most of themn inside their own 22.
“We’ve got a great pack and we want to use it, and Connacht want to come and make a mess and you can’t blame them,” said the Edinburgh head coach. “We were the positive team out there tonight and we’ll get the reward if we keep playing like that.”
Edinburgh suffered a blow before kick-off with stand-off Simon Hickey – perfect with his placekicking so far this season – ruled out with illness, Jaco van der Walt moving up from the bench to start.
Hickey’s boot wasn’t missed in the first half, however, as Edinburgh turned down a succession of kickable penalties as Connacht buckled under pressure into giving away ten in the first half alone.
The visitors’ defence was initially tenacious and effective, stalling the Edinburgh maul and pinching a couple of lineouts, but they were unable to snap the stranglehold of pressure from the home team and rarely emerged from their own 22 and ref Ian Davies slowly began to pick off one infringement after another.
Edinburgh’s backs were largely starved of space although they missed a great chance when van der Walt sliced through a gap but James Johnstone was hauled down before he could get to the corner.
Van der Merwe was also contained, at least until just before the half hour when Kinghorn smashed through at pace and Watson in support was hauled down close to the line, Connacht infringing in desperation.
Skipper Jarrad Butler took the rap with a yellow card and after Edinburgh scrummed the penalty, Pyrgos’ snap pass put van der Merwe over in the corner, van der Walt converting.
A blown lineout and an impressive gallop from No 8 Paul Boyle almost got Connacht back into it, but their first series inside the Edinburgh 22 ended with Watson robbing possession.
The Irishmen were fortunate not to see another yellow but another scrum penalty right on the break allowed van der Walt to kick Edinburgh 10-0 ahead, a pretty modest return for their complete dominance.
Van der Merwe’s finishing hasn’t been in doubt since he came to Edinburgh but he butchered a simple chance 10 minutes into the second half as Kinghorn created the overlap and delivered a catchable pass by the wing couldn’t hold it.
Still the pressure and the penalty count submerged Connacht and finally on 55 minutes – with referee Davies clearly indicating any further infringement would mean another yellow card – an Edinburgh lineout maul rumbled over the line and new recruit Schoeman scored his first try for the club, van der Walt converting.
Connacht finally got a foothold in the Edinburgh 22 by way of a penalty kicked to the corner and a long pass from Jack Carty gave wing Niyi Adeolokun just enough room to scramble over at the corner.
The stand-off added the extras and Connacht enjoyed a long spell of possession in which they twice early got wing Matt Healy away down the left touchline, only for a midfield fumble to bring relief to the home side.
But the Irish now had the same kind of ascendancy that Edinburgh had enjoyed in the first half and reduced the gap to just seven through a Carty penalty with five minutes remaining.
A silly penalty straight from kick-off put Edinburgh under the cosh again, but Dougie Fife’s catch on the retreat and a couple of penalties from scrum and lineout at last allowed them to hold out for the win.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Fife, J Johnstone, M Scott, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, S McInally (capt), WP Nel; B Toolis, G Gilchrist; J Ritchie, H Watson, L Hamilton.
Replacements: A Dell for Schoeman 64, S Berghan for Nel 54, F McKenzie for Toolis 57, M Bradbury for Hamilton 54, J P Socino for Johnstone 57.
Connacht: T O’Halloran; N Adeolukun, E Griffin, K Godwin, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; C O’Donnell, D Hefferman, F Bealham; G Thornbury, U Dillane; S O’Brein, J Butler, P Boyle.
Replacements: S Delahunt for Hefferman 47, P McCabe for O’Donnell 37, D Robertson-McCoy for Bealham 61, J Cannon for Dillane 57, C Faingaa for O’Brein 47, C Blade for Marmion 51, B Aki for Godwin 50.
Ref: I Davies (WRU)