Match to end all matches
November 30, 2011
Tim Visser grounds the match-winning score © Getty Images
Any moment now President Assad of Syria is going to join the long list of people who demand that Rob Andrew quit as the Rugby Football Union's high performance director but enough of England's woes, I'd rather talk about the best game of rugby that I have ever witnessed and that you almost certainly didn't. Unless you were one of the 5809 fans inside Murrayfield on Friday November 18 you will have missed an absolute pearl of a rugby match; one of the all time greats contests in European rugby's short history.
Sky have transformed the way rugby is broadcast on television - remember the bad old days when the BBC had the Heineken Cup and would show one, maybe two matches per weekend. Well Sky broadcast most of them, especially ones with British teams involved, but their cameras missed that Murrayfield classic so the only footage is from Edinburgh Rugby's solitary camera on the gantry.
Edinburgh won by a single point and the final score of 48-47 gives you just a taste of what went before. With eleven tries in total, the lead changing hands several times and 17 successful kicks at goal with both kickers posting 100% success rate this was drama at its best even if the defensive frailties of both sides would give the likes of Shaun Edwards an instant coronary.
I was co-commentator for BBC Radio Scotland and I could scarcely believe what was unfolding before my eyes never mind make any sense of it for the listeners and here's why.
Edinburgh raced into a 17-3 lead thanks to tries from Tim Visser and Greig Laidlaw who converted both touchdowns and added a penalty. Jonathan Wisniewski responded with Racing's only reply from a penalty. At this point the match was exactly nine minutes old. Undeterred Racing set out to prove, in the finest traditions of the grand old club, that attack is the best form of defence and they'd a four-try bonus point in the bag before halftime. All Edinburgh could manage during this carnage was one penalty. The scoreboard read Edinburgh 20-31 Racing at the break.
From the stands it seemed to us geniuses on the radio that the first score in the second half was going to be mightily important so when Racing grabbed the first three of them the game appeared to be over. Two penalties and their fifth try of the match gave Racing what looked like a decisive 44-20 lead with the match now entering the final quarter. It was over, the match was dead and buried, Edinburgh playing for pride now, oh, and to prevent the Frenchies from racking up a cricket score...or so the BBC Scotland listeners were told.
Come on! What were the odds on Edinburgh scoring the four converted tries they needed to win this game in the last twenty....no, seventeen minutes? Well, they narrowed somewhat after Netani Talei and Tom Brown grabbed two of the four required and the momentum swung even further towards the home team when Racing replacement Jone Nailiko was yellow carded on 69 minutes.
There is a finite amount of optimism on the rugby field so if Edinburgh had their tails up Racing were looked like zombies, dead on their feet and constantly in need of the trainer who must have run a half marathon himself so often was he on and off the field. Wisniewski's fourth and final penalty offered only temporary respite for the French side as Roddy Grant scored Edinburgh's fifth try and it was almost inevitable that Tim Visser, the Celtic League's top try scorer for the last two seasons, should finish off the evening with what was, for him, an almost prosaic flop over the Racing line with three minutes to play.
And still there was drama yet to come. Even as Edinburgh were celebrating their win Wisniewski, who hadn't missed a shot at posts all game, ignored a long-range penalty and instead opted for an attacking lineout. The burly Racing forwards, restored to eight men, muscled their way into position in the very shadow of Edinburgh's posts, Juan Martin "the magician" Hernandez dropped back into the pocket and...and....horribly fluffed his simple drop goal attempt.
It was at the 1999 World Cup semi-final when France came back from the dead to beat the All Blacks, the match that belonged to fly-half Christophe Lamaison, and compelling as it was it couldn't hold a candle to Edinburgh's back-from-the-brink heroics.
The big question now is can Edinburgh build on their nine points from two matches that leaves them sitting atop Pool 3, even if they are still pinching themselves to make sure it's all real?
The answer will come in the next two Heineken rounds when they face Cardiff Blues. If Edinburgh can get a home win against the pool favourites they will begin to believe in themselves and some people have seen what this team can achieve with a bit of self belief. Maybe Sky will broadcast the Paris re-match?
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