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OSPREYS FLY HIGH IN THE STORM

Edinburgh: 10(10) Ospreys: 25 (20)



The close season seems to get shorter and shorter these days.  It seems like only a couple of weeks since the Embramen were going down fighting to Union Bordeaux Begles in the European Challenge Cup quarters.  After a nightmare start, they fought their way back and really should have snatched the match at the death.  It felt like the pre-season encounter that, in some ways, it was after the long Covid lockdown.  Tonight's first PRO14 match of the season at BT Murrayfield at times felt like there was still plenty of rust to shake off.  The Gunners were coming off an uncharacteristic run of three straight defeats, looking to get the new campaign off to a flier. Two early back row injuries didn't help, but their execution was poor throughout and they duly paid the price.

The Ospreys have been an enigma for some seasons now.  They are not short of top class operators, not least the likes of the legendary Alan Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric in the pack, returning Rhys Webb and Gareth Anscombe in the backs. But new head coach Toby Booth has now come in to revive a club that managed only two wins last season.  They were big underdogs for a reason this evening.  A classic banana skin for a Gunners squad that has been hit by injury of late. 

And they duly slipped on it big time.  By no side, it was the Edimbourgeois who were looking like the side with only a brace of wins in a season, the Welsh the table toppers.   Man of the Match Webb orchestrated a comfortable three try victory in a bitterly disappointing, error-strewn contest for the Gunners. It was a great start to the Booth era. 

With the rain pouring down as Storm Aiden made its presence felt, handling was difficult in the early stages.  The well known inadequacies of the Premier Sport app will have seen blood pressure hit dangerous levels across the Edinburgh travel to work region as the remote Embra tifosi watched on from a safe distance.  As ever, Mr Darcy Graham was putting himself about at the breakdown early on.

In Edinburgh's first real attack, Farndale broke thrillingly from his own half, powering deep into enemy territory at pace.  Chris Dean took the ball on and the Sweet Prince's offload out of the tackle was deliberately knocked on by Tipuric.  Referee Brace carded the Lion and awared the penalty try.  7-0 Gunners on 12 minutes, slightly against the run of play but it was a classic Embra try.  Sadly, it was to prove the last home inspiration.

Then the wheels started to come off.  At the restart, Gilchrist was penalised and carded for a dangerous clearout.  Like Tipuric's offence, it was an easy decision for the referee to make. Some might even have argued that he was lucky to see only yellow.  Ospreys kicked penalties twice to the corner and eventually powered Nicky Smith over for a try under the sticks on 16 minutes to tie the match at seven apiece.  Myler added a penalty on 25 minutes for a scrummage offence.  The rain was pouring down as the steam billowed up from the scrums. 

A miserable night and the visitors were having a better match so far with ball up jumper against a strangely subdued set of Embramen. 'Piet' van der Walt then saw a penalty effort drift wide on 28 minutes.  On nights like these, you really need to take these chances. And the Welshmen duly took advantage with a thrilling try sparked by Kieran Williams, looking for all the world like a modern day Scott Gibbs, the world's fastest prop.  The centre ghosted through the defence and put Matt Protheroe over.  A super score showing great ambition off turnover ball and rewarded with a 7-17 advantage.

Myler stretched the lead yet further to 7-20 on 35 minutes and this match felt like it was slipping from Edinburgh's grasp just as the ball repeatedly squirted out of their hands.  van der Walt missed another three point chance after Hoyland, who had a decent outing at full back, had carried well into traffic.  He had another chance immediately afterwards, Graham exploding into enemy territory to set up an attack that was ended by a high tackle.  This time, Piet was on the money to leave the score at the break 10-20 to the impressive Ospreys.  They were playing the conditions better and were well worth their advantage.  The Embramen would need to exert much more control of ball and field position in the second period if they were to come out on top.

The second half began as the first ended, with errors galore and the Ospreys on top. The Gunners were still playing in the wrong part of the field and referee Brace was starting to lose patience with their offences in defence.  Three penalties in quick succession with the Welshmen camped in the home 22.  Eventually, Webb broke up the blindside off a rumbling maul and put Protheroe over in the corner beautifully on 55 minutes.  Myler missed the difficult conversion, but the Ospreys were nonetheless 10-25 up and the Gunners really didn't look like they had the spark to ignite a comeback.

As the fourth quarter ran on, the visitors took more and more control.  Although the Embramen had the odd little victory - scrum penalty won here, maul defended well there, a mazy Darcy run - they were going nowhere fast.  In the end, the Welshmen managed the closing stages with little fuss to come away with a well deserved away win, their first in 18 months. Not great preparation for Edinburgh's next match, away to Munster.

For a team at Edinburgh's current level, this was just not good enough. Richard Cockerill summed it up perfectly - 'We didn't control field position, got out kicked and out fought, and gave away cheap points.'

 

EDINBURGH CAN'T QUITE STAND THE HEAT

Union Bordeaux Bègles: 23 (14) Edinburgh: 14 (3)

I've just had a haircut for the first time in six months!  For the first 20 minutes of this afternoon's European Challenge Cup semi-final, it was looking like that might be the undisputed highlight of my day. And then the Embramen fought their way back into this contest to such an extent that they will have left feeling that this was one that they threw away.

Little errors in defence in the first quarter gifted the home side a big early lead.  Then little errors in attack in the final quarter denied them the scores that would have given them an unlikely victory.  You win knockout matches and tournaments through a relentless focus on the small details in execution.  Again, the Gunners fell short when it counted.  But what impresed me was how some of the younger members of the squad stood up to be counted, notably Charlie 'Chico' Shiel, George Taylor and Andrew Davidson.  Despite injury absences, Edinburgh still fielded a strong replacement bench who

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ULSTER WIN THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

Edinburgh:19 (5) Ulster: 22(0)

The 'favourites' tag has never sat easily on Scottish shoulders.  But there comes a time when you have to front up and deliver.  In front of the serried, if remote, ranks of the Embra tifosi, tonight was one of those nights for the Gunners.  They had a stronger squad and were the better side, playing at home.  There could be no excuses.

The big guns were back - 'Big' Ben Toolis joined Grant 'Gilcho' Gilchrist in the boilerhouse, Future Scotland Captain Jamie (T) Ritchie returned to the squad and the Embramen fielded their strongest back division, with the exception of the injured Henry 'H' Pyrgos.  They had had a couple of hard warm up matches against Glasgow, winning well first time out, having any complacency knocked out of them the second.  They were ready.

The prize for the victors would be an appearance in the final against perennial champions Leinster next Saturday evening, where they would assuredly be underdogs.  The Dubliners

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