The red men from Munster scored late to end Edinburgh’s European dreams for this season in a 13-17 victory that went down to the wire.
The 36,000 people who made the trip to a delightfully sunny BT Murrayfield Stadium would have been forgiven for thinking that the result was going to go a different way 10 minutes before full time, as Edinburgh had largely been the better side throughout the game.
The first 15 minutes was a story of Edinburgh knocking at the door of their Irish opponents and the Munster pack turning the ball over and relying on star player Conor Murray to use his big right boot to send it back down to the other end.
The Lothian side looked sure to be the ones to break the deadlock but a moment of opportunism and quick feet from Irish international Keith Earls gave the away side the lead after about 20 minutes with Joey Carbury adding the extras from the tee. 0-7 to Munster.
It didn’t take long for the home side to respond.
After a series of turnovers in the Munster half, Edinburgh once again found themselves 5 metres away from a try.
An energised effort from the Edinburgh pack, led by the likes of the ever-ferocious Mata at number 8 created an opportunity for centre Chris Dean to power his way over the line from close range, which he duly took. Jaco van der Walt went on to kick the conversion with the half hour mark ticking over. 7-7.
Van der Walt added three more to his tally for the day from a penalty to give Edinburgh a deserved lead of 10-7 going into the break. At this point, Munster had been through a period with 14 men on the pitch and had lost one of their star men, fly-half Joey Carbury, to injury. The scene was not particularly promising for the thousands of Munster fans who had travelled across the Irish sea.
The first score after half-time is important in any game, but maybe particularly so in this case and it went Muster’s way. Substitute Tyler Bleyendaal confidently swept home a penalty to bring the game level once again at 10-10.
Despite Edinburgh being able to pull ahead once again with a penalty to make it 13-10 soon after being pulled back level, you got the sense that Munster were finally growing into the game in earnest.
As the 60-minute mark rolled around and brought a host of substitutions with it, Munster’s famous chorus of ‘The Fields of Athen Rye’ began to ring around BT Murrayfield.
The support that Munster receive at home or away is famous throughout the world of sport. It is never a quiet affair when Munster come to town and the crowd really are the 16th man.With the thousands of red jerseys in the stands baying their side to victory, Keith Earls stepped up once again to give the game a grandstand finish with 10 minutes to go.
After a barrage of forwards attacks, Conor Murray released the ball to the backs from 10 metres out who sent it wide for Earls to dive over in the corner. Bleyendaal secured his 100 per cent accuracy with a phenomenal conversion kick from the touchline to put the score difference to 4 points. 13-17 to Munster.
Despite a spirited Edinburgh effort in the closing stages, the experience of Munster on the European stage proved too much for the side from the Scottish capital.
Wave after wave of attack from Edinburgh produced very little ground and eventually the clock turned red and the ball was knocked on, handing the victory to Munster. Edinburgh will undoubtedly be left very sore by the defeat as they were ahead in the game for large periods, only letting it slip from their grasp at the very end.
For Munster it was a familiar story, another European quarter final and another victory. Their composure, unrelenting defence and sheer will power typically provided them with the performance they needed. It is likely, however, that they will face tougher tests than Edinburgh if they are to secure final day glory in Newcastle in a few months.
Saracens appear favourites at the moment as they convincingly dispatched of Glasgow 56-27 in their quarter final, whilst reigning champions Leinster sneaked past Irish counterparts Ulster with a 21-18 victory in Dublin.
Whilst it is easy to talk of Munster as a team steeped in European history as their name seems to permanently appear in the final fixtures of the tournament, it has been a long time since they last lifted Europe’s premier trophy.
Their 2008 final win over Toulouse in Cardiff is now over 10 years ago and defeat at the semi-finals stage is all too common for the men from South-West Ireland. It remains to be seen if they can change that trend this year.
For Edinburgh, their undivided attention will now be on the end of their league campaign. They still fight for an arguably unlikely playoff position in the Pro14 Conference B, but have crucial fixtures against Ulster and Glasgow to come. They should take some confidence from their last couple of fixtures. A bonus point win against a second-string Leinster side and a close run against a full-strength Munster shows that the Lothian side truly are one of the toughest club sides in Europe and deserve to be spoken about as one of the best.
Yet it must be said that they still have some way to go. The likes of Mata, Kinghorn and Graham are undeniably exciting prospects and it is a great time to watch Edinburgh rugby, but at some point, they will need to learn how to close out big fixtures if they want to achieve true success.
Image: Mike Pennington via Geograph