Edinburgh showed true resilience and character in fighting their way to the victory they needed to secure their home quarter-final in the Heineken Champions Cup with victory over Montpellier at Murrayfield.
Darcy Graham’s try on the hour turned around the first significant examination Richard Cockerill’s team had faced during their pool campaign, when having dominating the entire first half they allowed Vern Cotter’s side to edge into the lead just after the break.
But it would have been a travesty if the French team had stolen the win on a night where Edinburgh had almost complete control of the match. The capital side fortunately had a second gear in reserve to surge to the win that secures not only their place in the knockout stages but also that of their Scottish rivals Glasgow.
Jaco van der Walt kicked four penalties and conversion for Edinburgh’s other points, and half-back partner Henry Pyrgos marshalled his team superbly throughout. But it was the scrum domination that told especially for Edinburgh, with WP Nel gaining man of the match honours.
Head coach Richard Cockerill said he didn’t believe his side would win their pool when the draw was made, but in the end he knew they thoroughly deserved to.
“We played bloody well and beat a good side again tonight,” he said. “Some people might talk about the other teams not playing well but it’s because we don’t let them.
“We did let them back in the game with a few mistakes about half-time but now we stay in the fight and we respond. It’s a great credit to the players and the staff here, and we’ll take on anyone who comes here in the quarter-final and give them a game.”
The victory also showed how Scottish rugby was on the up across the board, he continued.
“There’s a downside to everything, isn’t there?” joked Cockerill when reminded the win had also sent Glasgow through. “I love the rivalry though and it’s great that Scotland has two teams in the last eight. They can have a real go at Saracens tomorrow now.”
The first half didn’t have much free-flowing rugby, but it went perfectly according to Edinburgh’s preferred plan – at least until the very last play of the first 40 minutes.
The cornerstones of the home side’s control was Henry Pyrgos’ pinpoint box kicks and a clear domination in the scrum which led Vern Cotter to hook his veteran Springbok tight-head Jannie du Plessis after just half an hour.
The scrum provided a steady stream of penalties for field position and points for Edinburgh, the first big shove splintering the Montpellier pack and rousing the crowd from their seats after just four minutes.
Duhan van der Merwe escaped up the touchline on a strong run and Jaco van der Walt was on target with the first kick at goal after Edinburgh tried a lineout drive and were stalled illegally.
From the restart Jan Serfontein dropped a Pyrgos high kick, Mata off-loaded in typical style but although Chris Dean made ground into the Frenchmen’s 22 the support didn’t get there quickly enough and possession was turned over.
However Montpellier knocked on as they exited, then were offside at the resultant scrum, and van der Walt kicked his second penalty.
Edinburgh were forced to defend tenaciously when Johan Goosen’s kick through caught them shorthanded and then again when a high tackle by Mata gave Montpellier a chance to work their lineout drive in the home 22, but they fumbled again as Edinburgh disrupted.
Hamish Watson was forced off for Edinburgh with a head knock and another scrum penalty brought a third penalty chance for van der Walt, but this one went wide to the right.
But the stand-off got a quick reprieve when Jacques du Plessis went high on WP Nel, and Edinburgh had a handy 9-0 advantage as half-time approach.
However Edinburgh switched off as the break approached, were penalised in their own 22 and although there was a hint of a forward pass as Ruan Pienaar took the quick tap, Jacques du Plessis was driven over the line from close range, the scrum half converting with the last kick of the half.
And having barely fired a shot, Montpellier were in the lead just six minutes into the second half, a scrum penalty and a lineout drive brought an easier pen chance for Pienaar and a 10-9 advantage.
Edinburgh could have faltered, but they showed some character with van der Merwe again causing havoc up the line, and a lineout drive brought a penalty for van der Walt to restore hios side’s lead after just three minutes in arrears.
And Edinburgh’s pack now smelled blood, another penalty gained and their best lineout drive of the night taking them 20 metres to the Montpellier line, and after they bashed at the defence, Pyrgos smartly moved it to Graham to dart in for the vital try in the corner, van der Walt converting from the touchline.
Edinburgh were forced into a long defence in their 22 but Fulgence Ouedraogo knocked on for Montpellier as the home defence seemed about to wilt under the onslaught.
Hearts were in mouths when Johan Goosen almost intercepted a van der Walt pass, but although Edinburgh looked short on fuel another fumble by Montpellier secured the crucial victory.
Edinburgh (v Montpellier, Champions Cup, Murrayfield, 7.45pm): B Kinghorn; D Graham, J Johnstone, C Dean, 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, B Mata.
Replacements: D Cherry for McInally 71, A Dell for Schoeman 71, S Berghan for Nel 71, F McKenzie for Toolis 70, L Crosbie for Watson 29, N Fowles for Pyrgos 78, S Hickey , JP Socino.
Montpellier: F Steyn; T Nagusa, A Vincent, J Serfontein, H Immelman; J Goosen, R Pienaar; G Fichten, B Du Plessis, Jannie Du Plessis; NJ van Rensburg, Jacques Du Plessis; F Ouedraogo, Y Camara, L Picamoles (capt).
Replacements: V Giudicelli for B du Plessis 68, U Tcheisvhili for Fichten 68, L Chilachava for Jannie du Plessis 31, K Galletier for Camara 71, Y Reilhac, B Paillaugue for Pienaar 65, V Martin for A Vincent 70, P Willemse for van Rensburg 47.
Ref: JP Doyle (RFU)