EDINBURGH are through to the last 16 of the Champions Cup with a game to spare after 20 unanswered second-half points gave them a bonus-point win at the Stade Pierre Fabre yesterday. Castres just edged the first half and went into the break seven points to the good, but the visitors’ superior fitness saw them steadily take command after the restart.

Bill Mata and Jamie Ritchie played massive parts in wresting control of the contest away from the home side, while Ben Vellacott injected fresh energy into Edinburgh after coming off the bench.

The scrum-half got his team’s fourth and final try, adding to

earlier efforts from Dave Cherry, Mata and Cammy Hutchison,

while Blair Kinghorn was on

superb form with the boot, converting all four touchdowns and adding two late penalties for a personal tally of 14.

With 11 points from their three matches so far, Edinburgh now go into Sunday’s last Pool A game against Saracens with a guarantee of the top-eight place that will take them into the knockout stages. They are currently fifth out of the 12 teams, and if they can get into the top four they will have a home fixture in the next round.

“We’re pleased we won, but we want to stretch ourselves,” head coach Mike Blair said. “We want to win at home. It’s a huge game next week against Saracens.

“It’s different to the previous Champions Cup format, because in the past you went straight to the quarter-finals as opposed to going into a round of 16. But I still think this is a brilliant achievement for Edinburgh. We’re playing against the English and French finalists from last season – to get 11 points from those first three games is significant.”

Edinburgh were forced into four changes to their published squad, with Emiliano Boffelli, Luan de Bruin and Paddy Harrison all dropping out because of light knocks in training and Boan Venter being absent due to a minor visa issue.

Jack Blain and Willem Nel were promoted to the starting line-up, and Lee-Roy Atalifo, Tom Cruse, Nick Auterac and academy back Nathan Sweeney came onto the bench.

Cherry gave the visitors an early lead from a lineout maul, but then Kinghorn was sent to the sin bin for killing the ball, and Castres levelled from the next phase when Josaia Raisuqe was judged to have beaten Henry Immelman in the race to get a hand on Benjamin Urdapilleta’s grubber into in-goal. The stand-off converted, and after 15 minutes the scores were level.

Castres continued to make good use of the extra man, and went in front following a scrum five when Adrien Seguiret chose a good line to slice through and touch down. Gauthier Doubrere converted this time to give his team a seven-point lead.

Edinburgh regrouped, Kinghorn returned, and just before the half-hour mark Mata finished off from close range after patient pressure by the pack. Then, after Cherry was shown a yellow card for an offence close to his own line, Wilfrid Hounkpatin scored from a tap penalty, with Urdapilleta’s conversion taking the score to 21-14 at the break.

The momentum Castres had enjoyed late in the first half was conspicuous by its absence in the early stages of the second, and soon Edinburgh drew level again. Mata made the initial break, and then Cammy Hutchison was tackled but not held, so simply got to his feet to race the remaining 15 metres or so to the line.

Vellacott’s score that gave Edinburgh the lead was similar. Tackled while racing through a gap, the substitute was downed but not held, allowing him to get back to his feet and run in for the bonus-point try.

With quarter of an hour left, a collapsed maul allowed Kinghorn to stretch his team’s lead to 10 points with a penalty.

Castres’ attempts to get back into the contest were increasingly tired, and when they offended again inside the last 10 minutes, Kinghorn calmly added three more points to his team’s tally.

Meanwhile, captain Ritchie paid tribute to his team after Edinburgh recorded a bonus-point win away from home against French side Castres in the Heineken Champions Cup.

Edinburgh did the double over

the French side and the 34-21

victory means they have now qualified for the knockout stages of European rugby’s premier tournament.

The Scottish side produced an impressive defensive performance and kept the home side scoreless in a professional second half acknowledged by captain Ritchie.

“I am proud of the boys and the performance,” said Ritchie.

“It was a tight first half but our mentality in the second half – we kept them under pressure and I’m pleased with that.

“We were a bit more clinical and tightened up our discipline after the break.”