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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 played like Eddie Jones' famous 'finishers' when they joined the fray.  That bodes well for the forthcoming 2020/21 season.

Last time the Gunners were at this venue in this competition, in January, they went down 32-17 to a Semi Radrada inspired UBB.  As the European Challenge Cup enters the knock-out stages, they were back in rather different circumstances.  They were helped to a degree by Covid restrictions cutting the crowd from the usual 20,000 to only 1,000. The locals were noisy enough, mind.  

But after having most first choices available for their disappointing home loss to Ulster in the PRO14 semi-final, this time Edinburgh were on the road in the midst of an injury crisis so severe that Dan Nutton, a Super 6 operator with Heriot's who has been working on a farm for the last six months, covered half back from the bench.  The inspiration of Duhan, in particular, would be a miss in a match where they would have to take all their chances if they were to be successful. That said, given the size of the UBB pack, coach Cockerill might well have gone for a 6-2 split in his replacements in any case in an attempt to gain parity up front to give the underdogs a fighting chance.

They had nothing to lose in this outing against a star studded UBB side who are currently sitting at the top of the, erm, Top14 table.  But it was a massive ask to earn the right to face Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate in the semi-final next Friday evening, following the latter's hammering of the hapless Dragons last night.

The Gunners were down early.  While the Embramen had repelled early pressure from the home side, it was an error in attack that gave Argentine international Santiago Cordero the opening to scorch down his wing and touch down in the corner on five minutes.  Seuteni stripped the ball from Jimmy Johnstone and put his winger racing away. 'Piet' van der Walt had a chance to narrow the gap almost immediately when UBB were pinged for offside, but he pulled the ball left.  Two errors in two minutes, then Chico knocked on a high ball under pressure in his own 22 to give the Frenchmen a scrummage in good field position.

Their pack smashed the Gunners scrum, then both sets of forwards seemed to pause as the referee played advantage, but Jalibert put Dubie over for a second try.  14-0 UBB on 10 minutes and this one had 'total disaster' written all over it.  Edinburgh desperately needed to get a foothold otherwise the match would be out of reach by the end of the first quarter.  Just take a moment to breathe, ground themselves and dig in.

The Gunners got a bit of a break on 14 minutes when UBB made an odd decision to take a long pot at goal with another penalty, rather than go for the kill.  Jalibert was wide and Edinburgh had the chance to work the ball out of defence.  With a bit of attacking ball, they were putting UBB under pressure themselves.  A great break down the touchline by Ritchie forced an offside penalty, which van der Walt kicked to the corner.  But the Gunners gave away ball at an attacking breakdown to enable Jalibert to clear the danger.  14-0 UBB at the end of the quarter.

Just as it looked like Edinburgh might be gaining a bit of control, Ben Lam, making his debut, took ball in his own 22, beat a couple of tacklers and scooted from deep into the enemy 22.  It took another absolutely brilliant tracking tackle from Big Bill Mata to smash him into touch.  An outstanding effort from the No 8 and Shiel managed to clear to half-way.  The young half-back was under enormous pressure but was battling well.  It's matches like these that build character and resilience.

Amazingly, though, UBB were coughing up an increasing number of defensive penalties such that openside Petti was skirting a formal warning, having given away three in quick succession.  van der Walt knocked over his first penalty on 31 minutes and the Gunners were off the mark at last. One hoped that the Embramen were taking encouragement from the fact that, when under pressure, UBB were proving surprisingly fragile in the heat.  They were showing plenty of fight and endeavour, exemplified by George Taylor's fearless carrying into heavy traffic.  But in a big blow for the visitors, Big Bill hobbled off on 34 minutes having had his knee twisted in a double team tackle, Haining replacing him.  If the Gunners could hold out until the break, though, they would feel that they were not out of the match yet.

While they duly did so, they would be kicking themselves that they didn't narrow the gap to four at the death.  Off repeated phases in the UBB 22, Edinburgh created an overlap on the left, but after a great run from Blairhorn ultimately Watson knocked the ball on with the defence stretched. 14-3 at the break and it almost fell like a moral victory.  They had stopped the rot and given themselves a fighting chance, particularly if they were still in touch in the final quarter with the lumbering UBB pack fatiguing.

A fter a bit of sparring, the second half opened with a tekkers moment from Shiel, fumbling a loose lineout ball then kicking it into the advancing Haining's hands in a move that ultimately set up van der Walt's second penalty, on 45 minutes to narrow the deficit to 14-6.  Jalibert extended the lead again with a penalty on 50 minutes.  One felt that, with UBB already having replaced their front row, the timing of the Edinburgh repleacements might be crucial.

The Gunners then strung together some phases together in the UBB 22.  Damien Hoyland came close on the left wing, then it looked like an astonishing try was conjured by his wing twin, Mr Darcy Graham.  The wee rascal characteristically rode four tackles then went to ground five metres out.  He released the ball, stood up and regained possession.  As the Hawick man was falling into touch in a Lam tackle, he relesed Damo to twist over for the try, confirmed by the TMO.  17-11 Bordeaux on 55 minutes.   

The match was really opening up, and it was Bordeaux who were on the attack next.  The Embramen coughed up a breakdown penalty under pressure and Jalibert slotted the simple three pointer for a 20-11 home advantage going into the final quarter.  The Gunners emptied most of their bench as UBB seemed to be playing a tighter game to close the match out.

van der Walt notched a glorious touchfinder deep into the UBB 22 with a penalty on 62 minutes, giving them an attacking lineout.  After a few phases, a regal run by The King almost saw him over in the corner, setting up a series of phases.  He probably should have put the supporting Graham away rather than attempting to cross himself, but they still had an attacking lineout as referee Murphy had been playing penalty advantage.  This was a crucial moment in this match, but Watson knocked on near the line in the collision.

The Gunners were back in the UBB red zone though, off the back of a massive Bradbury run.  Referee Muirphy played repeated penalty advantages and carded UBB replacement prop BIG BEN TAMEIFUNA on 70 minutes.  But while van der Walt narrowed the gap to 20-14 with the straightforward penalty, the Gunners gave away a classic coach killer penalty after the restart.  Happily, it fell short and it was still all to play for in Bordeaux.  Edinburgh were now dominating field position.  Could they edge ahead on the scoreboard?

After another crucial Edinburgh error in the Bordeaux 22, a super clearance pushed them back to a defensive lineout deep in their own 22.  Bradbury looked very unlucky to be adjudged to have knocked on after gathering a long lineout on 77 minutes, but it gave UBB an attacking scrummage. Edinburgh were then penalised for offside and the clock ran out as Botica kicked the penalty for a 23-14 home win, ending the Gunners' 2019/20 season.

But don't worry, the new season is only a couple of weeks away!  A great opportunity for the Embramen to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and go again.

 

 

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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YOU NEVER WIN ANYTHING WITH KIDS

Edinburgh: 3 (3) Glasgow Warriors: 15 (7)

... as sporting legend Alan Hansen once said.  The cultured defender was proved wrong on that occasion, but not this evening as the Warriors gained sweet revenge for the loss of the 1872 Cup last weekend.  Not that the kids in question did much wrong, but this was a match for grizzled veterans. Glasgow, with Man of the Match Fraser Brown and Rob Harley, the Ginger Ninja, to the fore, finished their season with a richly deserved victory.

Prior to this match, one of the major talking points appeared to have been the 700 spectator limit at BT Murrayfield that had been imposed on the SRU by the Scottish Government.  For an evening in part designed to prove the concept of punter attendance in these strange times, it was fair enough.  The Edinburgh management came up with a sensible approach to identifying The Elect and it's difficult to criticise the decisions they made.  The trademark call of 'Shoooo' certainly rang out from the Ultras when The Greatest Schoeman

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