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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 a strong squad against visiting Connacht.  A front and back row that would be the envy of most sides in the league was joined by plenty of firepower among the brylcreme community wider out. There was also a debut for former England Under 21 cap Sam South, joining Carmichael in the boilerhouse, given Fraser McKenzie's injury sustained at Parc y Scarlets last weekend.

After a cagey opening period in difficult conditions, visiting tighthead Finlay Bealham suffered what looked - and sounded - like a serious injury as his leg was trapped in an attacking ruck, leaving the field to sympathetic applause.  Great Embra D, spearheaded by Mikey Willemse, forced a breakdown penalty soon after play resumed.  'Denis' Hickey knocked the long kick for an early three point lead on eight minutes.  The conditions were incredibly difficult for handling and fielding the high ball and the remainder of the first quarter was an error-strewn affair. 

That said, the Gunners appeared to have dominance in the scrummage, which was to continue throughout the match, yet were not being rewarded for it until Connacht were pinged on 18 minutes on their own 10 metre line.  Hickey nailed another fine long kick to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Then South did a superb job nicking Connacht maul ball as the Irishmen attempted to capitalise on a penalty kicked deep into the enemy red zone. It was their first meaningful attack of the match, neutralised by Kitty Macrae's defence.  Immediately afterwards, Matt Scott seemed to score a fine individual try from halfway - and probably did in fact.  It looked like a total miscommunication with Hickey, but off an inside pass and a standing start, Scott skipped through the first line of defence, then bobbed and weaved through six would be tacklers to cross. 

In the act of scoring, he 'did a Hoggy' to knock on, but the defending Carty was adjudged to have caused the error with a high tackle.  After extensive TMO scrutiny, the final result was indeed a score, but one that will go down as a penalty try rather than Scott's.  Whatever, the touchdown put the Embramen 13-0 to the good and Carty was carded - somewhat harshly - for the challenge. 

I emerged from audiovisual silence at half time to discover that the world's fittest prop, Simon 'Bergs' Berghan, had crossed on 33 minutes from a close-in drive off ruck ball under the Irishmen's posts.  But Connacht had managed to hit back through full back O'Halloran just on the break for a 20-7 home lead.  Advantage Edinburgh with the wind advantage to come in the second period.  They had been the better team, but the battling westies were by no means out of this one yet.

Mercifully, the second half began with the app functioning as effectively as the Connacht tactical kicking game, which gave them some early attacking field position.  They took advantage on 47 minutes as full back O'Halloran scored a second unorthodox try for a back three man, with another pick and go score under the posts.  20-14 Edinburgh and very much game on.

In a match where players on both sides seemed to be dropping like flies, the experience of John Barclay came on to replace the wounded Nick Haining on 53 minutes.  Some veteran nous added to steady the ship, one hoped.  Being able to bring on such quality, not least at a time when their squad was decimated by international calls, was another sign of the Gunners' burgeoning strength in depth.  Edinburgh needed to use the wind to play this game in enemy territory and remain patient.  Sure enough, they were soon camped around the Connacht 22.

A Big Bill Mata Breenge off the base of a scrummage on the visiting 22 set up a series of attacking pick and goes. The Greatest Schoeman, no fan of protective padding on posts, nonetheless took advantage of the safety gear, touching down at the base for Edinburgh's third try.  27-14 just before the hour with the successful conversion. And their defence, again through the impressive South, disrupted a subsequent Connacht attacking maul, allowing them to clear the danger.

'Bing' Crosbie won a breakdown penalty for holding on on 65 minutes, allowing Hickey to knock the ball to the corner, setting up the bonus point bid and a decisive moment in this match. A few quick forward drives, then a big Hickey pass found Duhan van der Merwe on his wing.  In characteristic fashion, the big man smashed through a swarm of defenders to place the ball for the Embramen's fourth try, despite valiant Connacht efforts to hold him up.  Hickey nailed his best kick yet, judging the conversion from the touchline perfectly for a 34-14 home lead and it was now a matter of running down the final 13 minutes of this affair to retain top spot in PRO14 Conference B, ultimately denying their near rivals a losing bonus point and leaving them 12 points behind in the table tonight.

Some excitement was injected into proceedings late on as The Sledgehammer, trying to put in the big hit, lifted his man in defence and was rightly carded with nine minutes left to run.  This was the Gunners' eighth yellow of the campaign already - more than last season as a whole.  And there were a few handbags kicking around in the dying minutes as Connacht's frustration rather got the better of them.  Things got a bit farcical as Haining and Masterton were both carded for a bit of afters with four minutes on the clock, but it was good to see the Gunners - a fired up Murray McCallum to the fore - taking no nonsense from no-one.  

13 vs 14, but it was short-handed Edinburgh who were on the attack late on.  And the pack, featuring debutant tighhead Dan Winning in the front row, smashed Connacht's scrum to earn their second penalty try on 79 minutes.  The evening was nearly rounded off with another try immediately from the restart as Charlie Shiel eluded the chasing runners and set sail for a score.  'Chico' was only halted by a blatant trip by Fitzgerald, which earned the Connacht man a yellow.  41-14 Edinburgh in what ended up a 13-13 contest.

Next up, Cardiff Blues as the Gunners continue to work hard and take this season one match at a time.

 

 

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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BROTHERS IN ARMS

Glasgow Warriors:20 (6) Edinburgh: 16 (6)

Just as Australians associate this time of year with prawns (40% of their annual consumption takes place at Christmas), so the Scottish rugby community associates the festive period with the 1872 Cup.  And, in four of the past five years, an Edinburgh series victory.

That expectation was reflected in the build up to this evening's match at Scotstoun.  There was much nervous talk in the west about the power fo the Gunners' pack, the odd back handed compliment about the capital club's structured game plan, and a bit of anxiety among the Edimbourgeoisie about being favourites in this opening round of the 1872. 

One thing that has really struck me about Edinburgh's season so far is how the depth built up last season and during the World Cup campaign has really kicked in. The result is that there simply is not a first choice starting XV.  Yes, the likes of The Greatest Schoeman, 'Rambo' McInally, Bill Mata probably are in the box seat for their slots. 

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