It was a sterling performance by a Connacht side shorn of seven front-line players, against a Scottish side that had high hopes of grabbing a bonus-point win.
It gives Connacht a huge boost ahead of their crucial Amlin Cup quarter-final tie with Bourgoin next week. The lack of bar facilities in the west and the heavy hail did not detract from Connacht’s perseverance that saw them concede the lead twice, having posted 11-0 in the opening 30 minutes.
Edinburgh posted two easy tries and upped the ante in the second half to grab a third midway through the half. But it was not enough against a gutsy Connacht who grabbed the victory in the 76th minute when replacement outhalf Miah Nikora kicked over the winning penalty from the 10m line.
Connacht kicked the opening three points when Roddy Grant was penalised in the ruck after three minutes. The bright start continued when Keatley set up Brian Tuohy when bursting through the central defence, and his offload in the tackle ensured space for the right wing to race home from 15 metres.
Edinburgh looked off the pace, making a host of unforced errors. Keatley may have been guilty of missing two efforts against Leinster last week, but last night he struck a superb drop goal after 13 minutes to extend the lead to 11-0.
Having controlled possession for the opening 30 minutes, Connacht lost the initiative, conceding two tries in six minutes. Tim Visser struck for the visitors’ first try, running onto Godman’s pass at pace before cutting through the midfield cover to touch down. And minutes later Edinburgh turned defence into attack after coughing up ball from Troy Nathan’s solo run into the heart of Edinburgh half. Mike Blair tidied up before hooker Andrew Kelly fed right wing Mark Robertson who from 60m out, escaped Aidan Wynne’s despairing tackle to grab the second try. Phil Godman’s two conversions gave the visitors an unlikely 14-11 lead at the break.
Edinburgh started the second half at lightning pace. Their big locks and back row came more into the attacking line, and No 8 David Callum’s break gave territorial control minutes after the break. However Keatley read the ensuing expansive move to perfection, racing the length of the pitch to head off his counterpart’s attempted chase. Although he failed to convert the difficult touchline kick, Connacht’s lead was restored.
When the Connacht outhalf added a 54th minute penalty to extend the lead to 19-14, Edinburgh again hit back. John Houston fed Roddy Grant who broke through for a third try, to reclaim a 21-19 lead on 60 minutes.
But Connacht continued to play it smart. When they worked hard for their chance four minutes from time, they reaped the deserved reward.
CONNACHT: G Duffy; B Tuohy, A Wynne, T Nathan, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan; M Swift, B Upton, M McCarthy; J O’Connor, M McComish.
Replacements: E Griffin for Carr (29-37 temp), R Loughney for Wilkinson (52), A Browne for McComish (60) M Nikora for Keatley (62).
EDINBURGH: J Thompson, M Robertson, B Cairns, J Houston, T Visser, P Godman, M Blair (cpt), A Jacobsen, A Kelly, G Cross, S MacLeod, J Hamilton, A MacDonald, R Rennie, R Grant. Replacements: R Ford for Kelly ht), S Turnbull for Hamilton (55), K Traynor for Jacobsen, S Newlands for MacDonald, G Laidlaw for M Blair and S Webster for Ciarns (all 60).