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WP SERVES UP A DOUBLE

Scarlets: 3 (0) Edinburgh: 6 (3)



After yesterday afternoon's momentous, if slightly surreal, Scotland win over Wales at this venue, the Embramen this evening attempted to make it a Scottish double.  In difficult conditions, the national side won the arm wrestle with Wales and kept their cool in the last quarter to preserve a narrow lead. And this even when they had to cope with both 10s in the squad retiring hurt, rejigging a back line that saw Stuart Hogg filling in at first five-eighth and a game Scott Steele making his dayboo in the unfamiliar position of wing.  

The Gunners have had their moments since this new season began, but are already way off the pace in Conference B, 15 points behind leaders Munster.  They really need to start picking up points if playoff rugby is not to disappear over the horizon soon.  While losing so many players to the national squad is always tough, the emergence of the likes of Future Scotland Captain Jamie (T) Ritchie and further calls to come due to injuries to Finn Russell and Adam Hastings means that the cupboard is even barer than usual.  While Edinburgh have developed commendable depth in various positions, there are some, notably first five-eighth, where they are struggling.  All the more important, then, to give Nathan Chamberlain as much experience as possible.

It was, though, a strong squad that the Gunners sent to West Wales, featuring a bit of rotation and a start for Murray McCallum at tighthead. They had the quality to take the points.  They needed to tighten up their defence significantly and add more incision in attack.  Above all, the senior players had to step up if the Embramen were to continue their streak of five straight wins over the Llanelli club in conditions every bit as difficult as yesterday.  Scarlets fielded a stellar back division, but Edinburgh looked to have the advantage up front.

And it was the Gunners' pack, in particular evergreen tighthead WP Nel, who won this match.  Although it was a low scoring affair, it was a scintillating one.  Sometimes, leadership is not about fancy speeches and inspiration.  Sometimes, it is about quietly digging in, executing your job faultlessly and projecting calm under pressure to your team mates.  Carrying your team on your broad shoulders.  WP did all that and more.  There is a reason why the highest paid player in many pro clubs is their first choice tighthead.

There were fleeting glimpses of what this team can do in attack, there was relentless defence.  Their scrummage was totally dominant, leading to a yellow card and a 20-4 penalty count against the home side. But, above all, there was a determination not to let this tight match slip from their grasp.  In short, it looked uncannily like Scotland's win here yesterday.

After a bit of early pressure for Edinburgh, Angus O'Brien sparked a thrilling, albeit ominous, breakout from the Scarlets' 22.  It was only halted after 'Piet' van der Walt and Jack Blain scrambled to snuff out the attack in their own 22. Jimmy Johnstone then came on after only five minutes to replace Chris Dean, who had failed an early HIA.  He was followed shortly afterwards by WP, on for the unfortunate McCallum.   On 16 minutes, a third replacement saw new boy Andries Ferreira make his first appearance for the club, in place of Davidson, as the wind howled and the rain poured down. The home side were looking frisky in attack, but the Gunners were keeping them under control in the first quarter. Handling was proving a real lottery in the conditions.  It was perhaps a night when it was better to play without the ball, waiting for the enemy to make a mistake, rather than playing too much with ball in hand.

It was a night for WP.

The great man started winning scrum penalties on 25 minutes and the second, on 28, saw the ball knocked into the home 22.  He won a third shortly afterwards and van der Walt knocked the ball to touch five metres out.  But the Gunners were really struggling in the lineout and the Scarlets managed to win a breakdown penalty as their rumbling maul misfired.

As time ticked down in the first period, Edinburgh were keeping play in Llanelli's 22, now dominating field position.  With tyro whistler Chris Busby playing penalty advantage following a dominant scrum, the visitors put in a series of close in drives and WP came desperately close to touching down.  There was no let up to the scrumfest for the beleaguered Scarlets, mind, as Edinburgh took another scrum five.  Llanelli were desperately trying to get veteran Rob Evans onto the park as the referee must have been thinking about carding loosehead Price for repeated scrum infringements.  Evans rode to the rescue on 37 minutes, but it was soon six scrummage penalties and counting on 39 minutes as the Scarlets were given a formal warning.  Edinburgh needed to come away with something, so van der Walt slotted the three points for the narrow half-time lead.  A bit of a moral victory for the home side, but the momentum was very much with the Gunners and the referee had made his mind up who had the edge up front.  Continue dominating territory and set piece and they looked to have the winning of this match.

After the unusual experience of seeing Edinburgh in possession in their own 22 from the second half kick off, they were soon back on the attack in and around the Scarlets' 22.  O'Brien was then fortunate not to be carded when he executed a sliding football tackle on van der Walt fielding a kick, picked up by Assistant Referee Nigel 'This Isn't Soccer' Owens. That said, van der Walt himself looked to have got away tackling a chaser without the ball just before as everyone was struggling to keep their feet in the quagmire.

On 50 minutes, Llanelli managed to win a scrum penalty of their own, giving O'Brien a pot at goal.  He nailed it to tie the scores at three apiece.  The wind advantage was very much behind the Gunners as van der Walt knocked the restart dead.  The blue and burnt orange pack absolutely smashed the scarlets in the succeeding set piece and normal service was resumed.  After the eighth Scarlet scrum penalty, replacement tighhead Kruger duly trotted off carded as quickly as he had come on, having buckled under huge pressure from his former protegee, Pierre 'The Greatest' Schoeman.  This set up a series of Embra phases in the Llanelli red zone, the Scarlets duly infringed and van der Walt regained the lead. 3-6 Edinburgh on the hour with a man advantage.

Taylor suffered a nasty head knock running the ball out of his 22 from the restart.  It was a big hit from lock Josh Helps, who came in quite high and there was a clash of heads.  Taylor departed for an HIA.  Referee Busby went through the protocol, concluded that there were no mitigating circumstances and it therefore had to be a red.  If I'm absolutely honest, I found it a difficult decision to understand viewed in real time.  But as the replays showed, although it was not a malicious tackle, it was indeed a clear red.  The Scarlets then seemed to lose their cool as McNicholl took Bennett out off the ball and had to be dragged away by his team mates.  It was little surprise when the Gunners won yet another scrum penalty and kicked into the 22.  Up against 13 men for now, there could be no excuse for failing to twist the knife as the match entered the final quarter.

It was helter skelter stuff, with a great sequence of handling unleashing Bennett dancing through traffic into the 22, but a handling error from the breakdown gave Scarlets a defensive scrummage.  Jamie Farndale was starting to show to good effect in attack as the match opened up a little.  This one was on a knife edge going into the final 10 minutes as Steff Hughes had to look lively to tackle a rampaging Farndale.  Then Scarlets broke brilliantly through Asquith to the visitors' 22, sprung by borderline crossing perhaps, only for the Gunners to save the day through great scramble defence.  It set up a series of close in phases on the Edinburgh line.  But the Gunners did superbly well under huge pressure.  Eventually, replacement hooker Dave 'Neneh' Cherry jackaled to win a vital penalty and chance to clear on 74 minutes.  Who needed a crowd, what with the triumphant bellowing that issued from the Edinburgh pack.  They knew how important that penalty was.

Amazing for such a low scoring match, but this was an absolute thriller.  As time ticked down, McNicholl sprinted down the right wing and it looked like he might give a scoring pass, only for Henry 'H' Pyrogos to step up and intercept.  Scarlets were pinged at the breakdown and van derWalt cleared the penalty long with less than three minutes left to run.  Edinburgh began the process of killing the game with short range pick and drives around their own 10 metre line.  

The match was ended when Cherry won another breakdown penalty in the final minute.  To no observer's suprise, the Man of the Match award very deservedly went to WP Nel.  

Coach Cockerill ws delighted with the win and the performance of his pack.  "When you work hard, good things happen." The Edinburgh show is assuredly back on the road.

BELIEVE!

Edinburgh: 26 (14) Connacht: (23) 37

Although the clocks have changed, the weather's got distinctly autumnal and the nights are fair drawing in, there have been some encouraging performances from Scottish teams to light up the gloom this weekend.  First came the national team's low key demolition of a physical but limited Georgia side on Friday evening.  It was great to see a dominant home pack smash the opposing eight, as it was when all three of the Embramen in the back three crossed, including Duhan on dayboo.  Above all, though, it was a joy to see the smiling sorcerer, Finn Russell, put in a superb cameo from the unfamiliar position of replacement.  The travails of this year on the disciplinary side may have done him no harm as he seems to have developed the air of a leader that was maybe not there before.  Matured he may be, but he has never lacked self-belief and still just has fun when he's on the park, zinging his trademark passes to put the strike men into space. 

Earlier today,

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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,

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