ANOTHER defeat in a knock-out match for Edinburgh. Another game which they might well have won.

The circumstances in yesterday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final were different from the PRO14 semi-final against Ulster a fortnight previously. In the first game Richard Cockerill’s team gave away a 12-point lead, whereas here they had to fight back from an early 14-0 deficit. In that sense, this was a superior performance, as the players displayed the character in adversity that the head coach had demanded of them.

Nonetheless, this was the fifth time in Cockerill’s three seasons at the helm that Edinburgh had got to a knock-out match, and the fifth time they have ended up on the losing side. They are undeniably a more competitive side under the combative Englishman, and at least they are getting to the latter stages in both league and cup. But they are still searching for that elusive formula that will take them at least one step closer to silverware.

At times in the second half at the Stade Chaban-Delmas they gave tantalising hints that they were about to take that step against a formidable Bordeaux-Begles side. Having fought back from the loss of those two early scores to close the gap to 17-11, then 20-14, they looked fitter and more alert than their opponents. And when replacement prop Ben Tameifuna was sin-binned with 10 minutes to go, that might have been the signal for Edinburgh to up the energy levels and pull off what would have been a stunning victory.

Instead, it was the French side who roused themselves back into life, aided by a couple of elementary mistakes and breaches of discipline from the visitors. In fact after the departure of Tameifuna it was only Bordeaux who had further scoring opportunities, with a Maxime Lucu penalty attempt falling just short before Ben Botica stretched the winning margin to nine with the final kick of the game.

The result takes Bordeaux through to a semi-final at Bristol Bears on Friday, while Edinburgh, their 2019-20 season over at last, have a single weekend off before the next PRO14 campaign begins. It is the briefest of respites, but one they may be glad of after losing three of their four games since last month’s resumption.

Edinburgh were never favourites to win this one against the team who would have been league champions but for the French season being declared null and void, and their chances looked to have slimmed considerably when key players such as Duhan van der Merwe and WP Nel were ruled out by injury.

And, as if their task were not hard enough already, they began the match by committing a series of errors which contributed to their going 14-0 down before 10 minutes had been played.  

They got away with a Bill Mata spill straight from kick-off, but in their first attack James Johnstone was stripped in the tackle by Ulupano Seuteni, who set Santiago Cordero clear down the left on a 60-metre sprint for the line. Mathieu Jalibert converted, then Jaco van der Walt missed a chance to open the scoring for the visitors with a penalty.

Minutes later, Charlie Shiel dropped a box kick on the edge of his 22 to give Bordeaux a platform. The scrum was a dominant one, Marco Tauleigne picked up at the base, and Jean-Baptiste Dubie finished off between the posts, with Jalibert again converting.

It could have got worse for Edinburgh after a quarter-of-an-hour, but the home stand-off was off target with a long-distance penalty, and then a Ben Lam counter-attack  was ended by a try-denying tackle from Mata.

At the second time of asking, Van der Walt got his team off the mark with a penalty 10 minutes before half time, and when he claimed the first points of the second half the hopes of a comeback rose. Even when a Jalibert penalty made it 17-6, Edinburgh, their continuing line-out problems  notwithstanding, retained the upper hand.

An inspired piece of play by Darcy Graham as he was about to be tackled into touch produced a try for Damien Hoyland, and although Van der Walt’s missed conversion was followed by another Jalibert penalty, Edinburgh continued to have the lion’s share of the game. Blair Kinghorn was tackled just short of the line, Bordeaux were penalised, but then Hamish Watson knocked on in the tackle after a kick to touch.

A Kinghorn penalty after the yellow card made it a one-score game at 20-14, but Nick Haining dropped the re-start, and shortly thereafter Mike Willemse was penalised on the deck.

Lucu’s 73rd-minute penalty was short, but Edinburgh were unable to take advantage of the let-off, leaving Botica to round off a barely deserved home
victory in the last minute.