EDINBURGH can hold their heads high but they still went out of the Guinness PRO14 play-offs after losing a pulsating contest at Thomond Park. Munster outscored the Scots two tries to one though they were never able to pull clear of the gutsy visitors.

The way Edinburgh fought their way back from 11 points down early in the second half to bring themselves within a point of an improbable win showed the fighting spirit that head coach Richard Cockerill has brought to the side.

They created almost exactly the scenario he had demanded – one point behind with 20 minutes to go – but he had not taken enough account of Munster’s experience in these close knock-out matches.

Facing the embarrassment of a home defeat and the loss of their big payday in facing Leinster in Dublin in a fortnight, they were able to batten down the hatches and see out the match, even extending their lead with JJ Hanrahan slotting his second penalty late on.

“It was a good contest, I am very proud of Edinburgh’s performance. If we had been a little bit more accurate at times, it was certainly a game we could have won,” said Cockerill. “Ultimately you get what you deserve and we got what we deserved but to push a side at this stadium so close that they are defending for their lives at the end is something we can take a huge amount of pride at. We built some solid foundations but we are not in the same league as these guys, or the Leinsters. It is a good starting point and we have shown that at least we can compete and have earned the respect of these teams.

“Munster are a very good side with world class at nine who controls the game very well, they have experience through the spine of the team that we have not got at the moment – we will learn that. We have to learn the lessons, it was a four-point ball game and we gifted them seven from a line-out, which has been good all year.

“Big game, make an error; seven points and we lose by four. All those little things in isolation don’t matter but collectively they add up. That is what costs you and you have to go through this to learn that. I would much rather have won and be going to Dublin to try to win the competition but the guys have to learn and the only way to learn is to be in these situations.”

What ultimately turned out to be the game’s deciding moment came after only eight minutes, when a decent opening was ruined by one of those infuriating Scottish flurries of mistakes that have been a fatal flaw, not just for Edinburgh, but for Scottish sides at all levels.

An attacking ruck saw them give away a penalty for not releasing, Munster used the possession to kick for position and a simple overthrown line-out gave home hooker Rhys Marshall an easy job, crashing through for the opening try, converted by JJ Hanrahan.

It might have been enough to douse Edinburgh’s spirit but they fought back, with Duhan van der Merwe, Blair Kinghorn and Mark Bennett all carving the defence open but running out of support before they could convert breaks into tries.

“We are all really disappointed because we know we had chances to win that game and we were in it to win it but also, looking back, it showed how much we have improved this season,” Kinghorn said.

For most of the match, they were giving as good as they got in general play, but struggling to make it into the scoring zone, relying on two penalties from Sam Hidalgo-Clyne to keep them in the game in the first half.

There was one let-off when Hanrahan missed from inches outside the Edinburgh 10-metre line, but worse was to come when Simon Zebo, the Munster talisman playing his last game in front of his adoring fans before heading off to France, showed just why he has been able to command the big Racing 92 payday.

It was one of those chaotic pieces of play with the ball bouncing around at random to suck both defences out of position when he spotted space, chipped the ball into it, won the race to get it back and then threw out an inch-perfect pass to Keith Earls on the wing to send him in for the second Munster try.

That seemed to inject a new sense of urgency and confidence into the Irish. They forced Kinghorn into a brilliant defensive save after another Zebo intervention before taking an 11-point lead with a penalty in front of the posts that Hanrahan duly slotted.

Hidalgo-Clyne clawed some of the deficit back with his third penalty before Edinburgh finally found their attacking mojo with Viliame Mata breaking down the right, the ball switching to the opposite wing with Kinghorn racing into the home 22. A quick ruck and Nathan Fowles, newly on for Hidalgo-Clyne, had the space to go over. With van der Walt converting it was back to a nail-biting one-point game going into the final quarter.

That was as close as it got, though. There was still plenty of time but Munster strangled the game and even increased their lead.


Munster: Tries: Marshall, Earls. Cons: Hanrahan (2). Pens: Hanrahan (2)

Edinburgh: Try: Fowles. Con: van der Walt. Pens: Hidalgo-Clyne (3)

Munster: S Zebo; A Conway (D Sweetnam, 30-39, 41), S Arnold, R Scannell, K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray; J Cronin (D Kilcoyne, 60), R Marshall (M Sherry, 69), S Archer (C Parker, 16), J Kleyn (G Grobler, 50), B Holland, P O’Mahony (C), J O’Donoghue, CJ Stander (R Copeland, 60).

Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Fife, M Bennett, C Dean (J Johnstone, 75), D van der Merwe; J van der Walt (D Weir, 63), S Hidalgo-Clyne (N Fowles, 55); J Lay (A Dell, 51), S McInally (C) (N Cochrane, 69), S Berghan (WP Nel, 50), B Toolis, G Gilchrist, L Carmichael, M Bradbury, V Mata (C du Preez, 60).

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)

Attendance: 10,205