FALCONS DOWN MISFIRING GUNNERS
Edinburgh Rugby: 21 (7) Newcastle Falcons: 26 (14)
In 1975, in order to commemorate the life of former Edinburgh Wanderer, Arthur Smith, who had captained both Scotland and the Lions, a Wanderers Select played the Irish Wolfhounds on the international pitch at Murrayfield. At half time, there was a demonstration of a new form of the game, mini rugby, accompanied by an invitation to any child aged between eight and twelve to return the following Sunday to have a go. On the appointed day, the three volunteer coaches were startled when 238 excited children descended on them in the pouring rain. They had to call in reinforcements from the SRU ground staff for what was a Scottish first. Last season, Murrayfield Wanderers celebrated 40 years of mini rugby on the back pitches (training on Sundays at 1200 midday, new season starting this Sunday, the 28th All welcome. Other mini sections are available ...).
Watching mini rugby is one of those life affirming experiences. One sees the children growing as people as they learn how to cope with defeat and adversity as well as success; as they learn how to work together and treat others with respect - no doubt ticking every 'Curriculum For Excellence' box there is to tick. Often, they can be absolutely inspired and could teach a few adults a thing or two. Sometimes they even do what their coaches have asked them to do. Always they are having fun, which is ultimately what has to be at the heart of any sport.
So it was apt that one of the clubs whose minis took the field at BT Murrayfield this evening was Murrayfield Wanderers, together with Forrester RFC. Among the band of mini brothers and sisters strutting their stuff were two of my own. And for us parents, bursting with pride, it was an evening of high emotion. For the wee tykes themselves, I am reliably informed that it was beyond both exciting and awesome; playing on the international surface in front of a supportive crowd an experience none of them will ever forget. If you applauded or cheered both sides on, thank you. If you were part of the team at Edinburgh Rugby who made it happen, thank you. If you are one of those unsung heroes who coach or volunteer at a club mini section season after season, thank you.
To borrow one of the great Jim Telfer's most memorable lines, in a rather different context, this was their Everest. Thank you for helping them reach the summit.
I'm all right. Sniff.
Tonight marked the end of an intense pre-season and it would be interesting to see how the hard work was coming together before the regular season begins next week. But enough of Wandies minis, what about Edinburgh Rugby?
To continue the youthful theme, it was a fairly callow back row that started the match, the elder statesman of the trio, Hamish Watson, still only 24. But it was good to see the dynamic openside joined by two young men who made a big impression last term, Magnus Bradbury and one man wrecking ball Jamie Ritchie. Overall, the Gunners fielded a strong side and one was particularly keen to see how the midfield combination of second five-eighth Phil Burleigh and the direct running of threequarter Sasa Tofilau would gel.
Tofilau certainly stood out in a strong individual performance, always looking for the offload out of contact. Replacement Solomoni Rasolea put in a fine cameo performance, topped off with an outrageous try that suggests that this guy will unlock a few defences in his time with the Embramen. It was great to see Grant Gilchrist putting himself about a bit, while the scrummage was its usual Bajadita-style self, suffering more through refereeing interpretations than anything the enemy threw at it. Man of the Match Duncan Weir looked comfortable at 10, scoring his first points in an Edinburgh jersey with a fine try and three conversions.
It was all a bit too loose, though. I always wonder whether only two pre-season matches is enough to get a club back to match readiness and there was certainly a fair bit of rust on show this evening. The lineout was erratic, slack handling put paid to several great opportunities, while the defence was leaky at times. One felt that Newcastle had the edge at the breakdown and by outscoring the Embramen four tries to three, deserved their win. They moved the ball away from the breakdown that bit more sharply and asked questions of the defence further out.
And it was the visitors who were on the board first in front of a 2,500 crowd. Harris waltzed clean through from no great distance on 6 minutes, Delany's convdersion putting them 7-0 up after having enjoyed most of the early pressure.
Ten minutes later, Stuart 'Rambo' McInally scored a fine try in the corner. The Gunners had numbers wide out, but it took a huge pass from Weir to put Watson cantering goalwards, the openside's offload finding the supporting hooker to cross for the score, converted by Weir. Yet while it felt like the Gunners, steered ably by the diminutive first five-eighth, were on top and starting to dominate, it was Newcastle who scored next, Olmstead's converted try on the stroke of half time giving them a 14-7 advantage at the break.
The disappointment continued after the resumption, Kibirige extending the lead with an opportunist try on 44 minutes, Dalany failing with the extras. But then the tide seemed to turn. Ten minutes later, Rasolea's mazy running led to his score and the Weir conversion narrowed the gap to 14-19. And things were looking better still on 63 minutes when Rasolea broke, committed his man beautifully to put Hardie charging goalwards. The openside was caught just short but offloaded to the supporting Weir for a fine try, goaled by the man himself to put the Gunners ahead for the first time in the match.
Having fought their way ahead with the clock ticking down, Edinburgh should have held out for the victory. But credit to Newcastle, who kept plugging away and eventually a series of pick and drives in the Embra red zone saw Chick cross for the fourth try. Hodgson's conversion left the final score 21-26 Newcastle.
A bit of an underwhelming end to the pre-season phoney war, then. But a fair few positive signs too. Hopefully they will be much sharper when they turn out for real, away to the Blues next Saturday.