Was Edinburgh’s crushing of three-time European champions Toulon at Murrayfield a statement game? Certainly, but mostly a statement to themselves.
Building self-confidence and the belief that Edinburgh belong in the big competition has arguably been Richard Cockerill’s biggest task. He railed against it last week, making clear how much he loathed the Scottish habit of reverting to introspection and seeking consolation in the “plucky losers” role.
Many times, some of them quite recently, Edinburgh could be relied upon not to follow up an encouraging performance with a convincing one, especially if a bigger than usual crowd turned up at BT Murrayfield in expectation. With over 7000 there on Saturday, it seemed set for anti-climax.
Not a bit of it. This was maybe just a touch behind Edinburgh’s two home victories over Toulouse in 2003 and 2012 as their most complete performance in the competition.
Even those inevitable periods of introspection during the game brought big responses. When Romain Taofifenua lumbered over the line for Toulon’s first half try, it seemed the French would rouse themselves after an uncertain start.
Edinburgh’s immediate response? A flurry of assured phase play starting with Bill Mata’s gallop down the right touchline, play switching left and then back right, and Blair Kinghorn sending Matt Scott through a huge gap in the French defence to feed Henry Pyrgos to scamper under the posts.
Again, during the second half Edinburgh lost a little cohesion as the scrum struggled after WP Nel departed. The crucial try bonus, seemingly certain after Stuart McInally’s score killed the game as real contest six minutes into the second half, seemed to be drifting away.
Instead Edinburgh’s smothering defence effectively drove Toulon back 30 yards in their own half and ended with Francois Trinh-Duc’s desperate offload landing in the arms of a grateful Chris Dean, who flopped over the line to make it a five-pointer.
Cockerill still isn’t saying his team can get out of the pool, in public at least. “We spoke all week about this team coming of age and hopefully it is the start of that,” he said.
“We have still got to go and play Toulon away, so we are not going to get too excited. But for Edinburgh as a club, what we are trying to build and trying to do, it is a pretty good statement to make.
“It is a step on the way. It will be hard for us to qualify from this group but we are going to keep working hard and see where we get to.”
Truthfully, anyone who has watched Edinburgh and Toulon this season suspected that Richard Cockerill’s side would win this game. The French arrived in the capital minus a number of celebrated names, notably skipper Guilhelm Guirado, Mamuka Gorgodze, Liam Messam, Rhys Webb and JP Pieterson, fresh off the back of only a second loss at home in the Heineken Champions Cup to Newcastle last week.
Sure, they still had Mathieu Bastareaud, All Blacks Julian Savea and Malakai Fekitoa and Fiji’s Josua Tuisova, so it’s all relative. Only given that two defeats in the first roiund usually means automatic omission from the quarter-final race, it seemed odd Toulon didn’t turn up with all hands.
Not that Edinburgh cared. Most of their key men were outstanding, especially the front row. With WP Nel in storming form right now, and all three combining with hands at short range for the skipper’s try, it seems certain Gregor Townsend can just slot them all in for Scotland in the autumn.
Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis dominated the lineout, and Mata on the ball – and the Fijian loves it in his hands – is a significant weapon.
Henry Pyrgos has been an excellent signing – he wasn’t the best of the three scrum-halves at Glasgow but he was the best for Edinburgh’s style of play, a superior kicker and organiser.
Matt Scott maybe had his best game for Edinburgh in either spell with the club. The centre’s habit of lacking composure in defence has left him on the fringes of the Scotland set-up recently, but he was outstanding on both sides of the ball on Saturday and should get a long look during the autumn.
November will see Cockerill’s skills tested to the full with so many more call-ups for Scotland to deal with. Beyond that the December doubleheader with Newcastle looks tasty, although you’d think Edinburgh have to win both games against the Falcons to progress.
At least now, even allowing for Toulon’s fecklessness, they have the belief that they can do that.