BY LINLEY MCKENZIE
Three weeks ago Connacht were celebrating the win of the season against Leinster; on Friday night in the Sportsground it was Edinburgh who were doing the highland fling.
Such is the inconsistency of Connacht's displays this season that it is hard to fathom just how they could concede three tries in one of the most dispiriting opening 40 minutes at home this season.
Connacht coach Michael Bradley had entered the game expecting to get a result, particularly after a series of decent results at home to Glasgow and Leinster, and away to Dax in the European campaign.
"I thought we would do well tonight. I thought a win was achievable, it was a game we had high hopes for in terms of a result, but we had a poor first half."
Understandably coach Bradley described it as "disappointing" and "frustrating".
"For some reason we did not look sharp at all. Edinburgh were very good, taking every chance in the first half. They were very good in the collision area."
Connacht's hopes therefore of adding a third successive win to this season's home record and keeping the pressure on an ailing Ulster side came unstuck last night, and they looked nothing like the side that had beaten Leinster three weeks ago.
Edinburgh's Andy Robinson was also disappointed, but in his side's failure to score in the second half and nail a winning bonus point. He had kept faith with the side that had beaten Castres last week in their first win on home soil, and they certainly maintained that momentum in the opening half . Had they not been a touch casual in the second half, they really should have bagged the bonus point . As it was they notched only their second win of the Magners League, having been below Connacht on the table - despite brimming with international class in their squad.
The first half was all about Edinburgh taking their chances and Connacht failing to come to terms with the battle on the floor and their defence. Edinburgh had pace to burn out wide, and strength up front, and Connacht somehow struggled to deal with their physicality.
The visitors used the wind intelligently, kicked into the Connacht half continually and forced the home side to attack from deep in the hopes they would eventually cough up possession. Connacht obliged as Edinburgh won the collisions and Connacht found themselves pinned inside their own half for most of the opening 40 minutes.
Edinburgh made the telling breakthrough after seven minutes. It initially came through an unfortunate ricochet off a Connacht player, but flanker Alan MacDonald was lightning quick, breaking through from halfway. Prop Geoff Cross continued the momentum with a few valuable yards before the ball was spun left and it was wing Simon Webster who strode in, dancing around three tacklers in the in-goal area to touch down under the posts within eight minutes.
Webster, Mark Robertson - son of legendary Scottish player Keith Robertston - and the three-quarters were eager to get involved, and with the pack on top in the scrums and the loose, they were given plenty of opportunity. Fullback Chris Paterson added two penalties and three conversions - the second when Edinburgh took a quick penalty after Carr was harshly pinged for not releasing after the Edinburgh pack had driven over, and when Paterson hacked ahead, he won the race for the second try.
With Connacht pinned back on the heels, and Edinburgh making all the running, the third try came just before the break when captain Mike Blair sold a dummy and waltzed through for an easy score.
Certainly there looked no way back for Connacht unless they dramatically picked up the tempo. They did look more creative, particularly after Fionn Carr had found a gap through the defence before Sean Cronin was stopped just short. Replacement scrumhalf Kieran Campbell followed suit, but was penalised for crossing with the line in sight, but on 59 minutes Connacht got on the scoreboard when Gavin Duffy intercepted on halfway and raced in untouched.
Connacht continued to get stuck in, providing them with the necessary impetus to not only create but stymie Edinburgh's best efforts. Four minutes later Edinburgh, camped on the Connacht line, gave away possession through an intercept. Replacement Andy Dunne did the damage before Carr cut inside to to make it 14 - 27 after 63 minutes.
With the wind behind them replacement Troy Nathan nailed a decent kick to the 22; David Gannon, making a welcome return to action, got his hand to an Edinburgh line-out; and when the penalty was won Connacht opted to kick for touch in the hopes of narrowing the gap to just seven. Eventually the move broke down with a knock-on in midfield from Ronan Loughney, and with it the possibility of winning, recording a third successive draw against the same opposition in Galway, or picking up a valuable loser's bonus point.
Connacht: F Carr, A Wynne, G Duffy, M Deane, J Hearty, I Keatley, F Murphy, J Lyne, S Cronin, R Morris, M Swift, A Farley, J Muldoon, J O'Connor, C Rigney.
Replacements: A Browne for Swift (20m ), D Gannon for Farley (ht ), T Nathan for Hearty (49m ), A Flavin for Cronin (51m ), K Campbell for Murphy (54m ), A Dunne for Deane (58m ).
Edinburgh: C Paterson, M Robertson, B Cairns, N De Luca, S Webster, P Godman, M Blair (cpt ), A Jacobsen, R Ford, G Cross, C Hamilton, J Hamilton, S Newlands, A MacDonald, A Hogg.
Replacements: M Mustchin for Hamilton (58m ), G Kerr for Cross (67m ), J Houston for Webster (67m ), R Rennie for MacDonald (67m ).
Referee: James Jones (Wales ).