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IT'S HAINING, IT'S POURING

Edinburgh: 14 (8) Cardiff Blues: 6 (6)



While the national team has had a bit of a ropey start to the Six Nations, one of the undoubted successes has been Nick Haining, who took his excellent club form to the Aviva Stadium to make a powerful debut last month.  He has not yet added to that first cap, but the 29 year old looks like the abrasive ball carrier that we have been searching for for some time.  He was joined again at BT Murrayfield this evening by Big Bill Mata and Luke 'Bing' Crosbie in a genuinely fearsome back row that looked to have the edge over their opposite numbers.  Haining played his part in the physicality up front that was to prove - just - enough to secure the points.

Charlie 'Chico' Shiel made his much anticipated first home start at half back in a squad featuring a little rotation and the usual international absences.  It would be fascinating to see how he coped with implementing Edinburgh's structured gameplan, perhaps throwing in a bit of the magic of which he is capable.  With the Gunners' increasing strength in depth, it still looked a strong squad, particularly up front, as the Embramen looked to dominate the visiting pack to set the foundation for the win that would keep them top of PRO14 Conference B.

The weather was better than it has been of late.  But would the fifth placed Blues, steered by Embra legend Jason 'Stovies' Tovey, rain on Edinburgh's parade?  Ultimately, the Gunners dogged this one out, showing a winning mentality when the pressure was really on.  Their mental toughness maintained their perfect home record in the PRO14, a quality that will serve them well at the business end of the season.

After a lively start from both sides in attack, Willemse was pinged for holding on in the tackle, giving a goal chance to Tovey on 10 minutes.  The Stovenator knocked the long kick over for a 3-0 lead to the visitors.  It stung Edinburgh so much that George Taylor scored immediately.  The centre chased 'Denis' Hickey's long restart, charged down the mercurial Fish's overly relaxed clearance and dived on the ball for the try that put Edinburgh 5-3 up against the run of play.  

As the quarter came to an end, the Gunners were struggling to get any kind of field position and their lineout was looking shaky.  Aside from some bursts from van der Merwe, they were showing little in attack.  The Blues, by contrast, were in control and putting Edinburgh under pressure at the breakdown.  Two silly penalties in a row gave Cardiff a chance to take the lead but The Stovenator missed a relatively straightforward kick.

The Embramen came very close to extending their lead, Johnstone running a brilliant line to slice through the defence on halfway and make great ground to the enemy 22.  A few more phases followed, but Edinburgh were turned over as a maul went to ground, allowing Cardiff to clear the danger.  

As the match moved beyond the half hour, there was a sense that the Embramen were starting to crank up the pressure as they at last built some territory in attack, forcing two penalties in quick succession.  Hickey hit the post with the first, but nailed the second to put the home side 8-3 up as their defence also began to smother the visitors and suddenly the Blues were looking less assured in attack.  But with referee Clancy calling to the defender to let go, Edinburgh gave away a breakdown penalty in injury time, enabling The Stovenator to narrow the gap at the break to 8-6 Gunners and leave this one intriguingly balanced.

The resumption saw Cardiff, Fish to the fore, looking dangerous without getting any change in terms of the scoreboard.  Then an accidental head clash following a rapid defensive play by replacement The Greatest Schoeman saw The Stovenator retire injured on 48 minutes, to be replaced by Fish moving into the playmaker slot in an already much reshuffled Cardiff side.

It looked like the Embramen might be on the verge of scoring a decisive try on 53 minutes after putting in a number of pases in the Blues' 22. But Cardiff's defence held firm, eventually forcing a breakdown penalty to allow them to clear as 'H' Pyrgos came on to replace Shiel.  Nonetheless, there did seem to be a sense that the Gunners were starting to turn the screw as the visitors were likely to tire going into the final quarter.  As ever, it was Schoeman who seemed to add just that crucial touch of additional momentum.  One minute he was putting in a big hit in defence, the next he was carrying over the gainline, the next winning a scrum penalty in this tight affair.  No wonder the big rascal won Man of the Match honours for a mere half an hour's work

On 65 minutes, the Gunners knocked a kickable penaty to the corner in a bid to kill this game off.  The maul rumbled forward, The Thistle Scottish Rugby Podcast's Chris Dean came close, then The Sledgehammer nearly gathered Hickey's kick pass to the opposite wing, but knocked on in the aerial contest.  A chance missed, but the clock was ticking down and trailing Cardiff were pinned down deep in their own 22.

The Blues were increasingly coughing up penalties under pressure.  A lineout infringement enabled Hickey to kick for the corner with 10 points left to run. This time, it looked like the bomb had delivered a try, but van der Merwe was superbly tackled into touch on the corner flag.  But advantage was being played and Hickey took the chance to stretch the Gunners' lead beyond a penalty. 11-6 Edinburgh on 72 minutes.  A test of character on both sides in the final straight - who would hold their nerve the best?

The answer?  Edinburgh.  After repelling repeated enemy phases in their own 22, they forced a turnover and cleared deep.  Under pressure, Cardiff coughed up a penalty as a result of pressure from Schoeman at the tackle.  Hickey assured the win with a third penalty on 78 minutes  for a 14-6 advantage over a valiant Cardiff side that they were not to surrender.

The international block has seen the Gunners take 13 from a possible 15 league points.  Not a bad haul at all.

 

STORM SCHOEMAN AND THE PACK BRING HOME THE POINTS

Edinburgh:41 (20) Connacht: 14 (7)

Due to commitments elsewhere, I was unable to make it to BT Murrayfield for this key PRO14 Conference B clash this evening.  My frustration was quintupled as, due to a malfunction on the Premier Sports app on not one but two devices (the subscription for which, to add insult to injury, I appear to have been billed twice), I was forced to watch referee Pitrea repeatedly and endlessly debating whether or not Matt Scott had actually scored the Gunners' first try. 

Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. 

It was like some awful terrestrial Limbo.  And I could only find Dundee United on the wireless.  Where was Peter Wright in my hour of need?

Anyway, after the biblical deluges of the last couple of weeks, a damp and windy BT Murrayfield seemed almost balmy by comparison prior to kick off.  Despite extensive international absences, the Gunners nonethless fielded

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Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Edinburgh: 61 (19) Southern Kings: 13 (13)

The end of 2019 and the accompanying end of the decade has seen pretty much everyone selecting their team of the last 10 years, in whatever sport.  I have been looking back in a different way, stumbling across old friends as I clear the spare room ready for new use.

There's been a small sweet tin, carefully labelled in youthful hand 'Scotland v Barbarians 1983', containing a tiny, dessicated tangle of Murrayfield grass collected back in the days when you could invade the pitch after no side without getting arrested.  Among the programmes is one from my only ever visit to The Gnoll in Neath, in 2002, with a youthful, tanned Big Gav Henson smouldering characteristically on the cover; an Embra cap signed by Berwick legend Craig 'Biggers' Smith; and one of those tiny Scotland rugby balls, signed personally by Brendan 'The Chainsaw' Laney.

So many memories.  So much has changed in the succeeding years.

Yet while the idea that the Gunners would play in a

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