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TAPADH LEIBH, HUGH DAN

Edinburgh Rugby: 20 (13) Ulster: 32 (19)



There was not a dry eye in the house at BT Murrayfield this evening as those present contemplated the end of an era.  I refer, of course, to the final occasion on which rugby legend Hugh Dan MacLennan would relate an Edinburgh Rugby match to their many followers in the Gaeltacht via BBC Alba's coverage - and, in passing, to many observers who do not have The Gaelic.

As someone who was brought up on Saturday evening reports of the shinty results on Radio Scotland, featuring John Willie Campbell and then Hugh Dan (I have a particular fondness for the mighty Cabers, or Comann Camanachd Cabar Feidh, to give them their Sunday name), I was overjoyed when the great man emerged as BBC Alba's rugby commentator.  And he has proved to be rather good at it.  He will be much missed. One hopes that the PRO14 high command will soon see the error of their ways and bring BBC Alba back into the fold at some point in the near future.

After last weekend's underwhelming outing against the Blues, where Edinburgh rather folded under pressure, the bumper crowd this evening wanted to see a much more purposeful home outfit.  Duncan Weir, The Glasgow Boy and hammer of the Ulstermen at the Kingspan recently, partnered SHC in a changed half back hinge, while departing Phil Burleigh came in to the second five-eighth berth.  Up front, international tighthead Simon 'Ice' Berghan, 'Big' Ben Toolis and One Man Wrecking Ball Jamie (T) Ritchie started as 'Jarvis' Cockers freshened the forwards up a little.

New Ireland star Jacob Stockdale - identified early on in his career in this very column as having some potential - was just one star in a pretty frightening visiting threequarter lineup.  But one felt that the Embramen had quite a comfortable edge up front and really should have enough to build the platform from which to win this match with something to spare.

But for the second week running, in a winner take all match, it was the Gunners who blinked first.  They retain a significant advantage over Ulster in PRO14 Conference B, with the playoffs remaining in their own hands.  And Ulster have a tougher run in.  But the Embramen threw away a golden opportunity tonight.

In the early stages, Ulster had plenty of ball but didn't do much with it due to solid Edinburgh defence.  From the Gunners' first venture into Ulster territory, Rory Best gave away two penaltiues in quick succession and Weir slotted a simple three pointer on nine minutes to take the lead 3-0.

But Ulster scored a great try out of nothing, sleight of hand from Piutau put Stockdale away on the wing, who fed the supporting Cave beautifully for the score.  Half back Cooney stretched the lead to 7-3 on 13 minutes.  The opportunity had come off a rush of blood to the head from Burleigh, who kicked ball away unnecessarily.  There was absolutely no need to force the game this way and the Gunners paid the price.

The breakdown penalties were mounting against Ulster, though, and one wondered whether big Nige might have a word with visiting skipper Best.  Weir duly hit another straightforward effort on 15 minutes to narroiw the deficit to 6-7.

In a see saw game, Piutau was over in the corner on 19 minutes as the men in white conjured a two man overlap to create the score.  It was another beautiful try, Cooney's failed conversion leaving the Ulster lead 6-12. No panic, but the Gunners' lapses in concentration had gifted their opponents opportunities from which they had profited. One could see confidence returning to Ulster ranks.

And it surged back as Cooney scored under the posts on 24 minutes, released by a fine inside pass from Stockdale. 6-19 down and maybe it was time to panic after all.  The Gunners desperately needed to get some field position and build phases in enemy territory. Instead, when they were making line breaks, the support runners were not on shoulders quickly enough and Ulster forced several brakdown penalties as Edinburgh carriers held on in the tackle.

Completely against the run of play, Weir snaffled a telegraphed Cooney pass on his own 10 metre line and set sail, like a demented water buffalo, for the Ulster line.  He took no chances and slid over from distance for a vital try on the half hour, converted by himself to narrow the gap to 13-19 with the conversion.  And the wee man's half break put Blairhorn away immediately after the restart.  The King's kick behind the defence just eluded the chasing Fife in what could have been a dramatic turnaround. 

Then, after another bullocking Bradbury run up the left wing, which took Louis Ludik out of the match completely, SHC saw a huge gap in the enemy 22 and kicked to space for the chasing van der Merwe, only for the ball to trickle into touch with no defender within sight.  The momentum was assuredly with the Gunners as half time arrived with the visitors maintaining their lead.  As ever, Bill Mata was gettign through a power of work with ball in hand, while The King was looking dangerous on the counter.  He seems to have developed his own version of The Hoggy Hover, where he changes direction in mid-air to bamboozle the defence.

All to play for in the second period.  After some promising Edinburgb attacks came to nothing, Cooney stretched the Ulster lead with a penalty on 50 minutes, following a foolish breakdown penalty conceded by the Embramen on their 22.

The Edinburgh scrummage was absolutely smashing their inexperienced opponents, forcing a turnover scrummage inside the visitors' 10.  A massive shove set the backs arcing into the enemy 22.  van der Merwe came close, setting up close in phases with advantage playred for a Henderson breakdown penalty almost immedaitely under his own posts.  With such set piece dominance, it made sense to take the scrum five and go for the pushover with a fresh Sutherland and WP joining the fray..  It was a big call, but the right one.  First time, Ulster deliberately collapsed for a penalty.  Second time, when the power came on, Ulster infringed to cough up the inevitable penalty try.  20-22 on 58 minutres and game very much on.

On 63 minutes, J(T)R tackled the galloping Cave brilliantly to save a certain try, but was rightly adjudged to have ripped the ball after hitting the floor.  Cooney kicked the penalty to push the lead out to 20-25 and the penalty count was starting to mount against the Gunners.  Both sides were struggling with the pace of this match as we entered the final 10 minutes. They were both struggling with discipline as well as another dust up erupted on 75 minutes.

An errant Weir kick was snaffled by Ulster and Kennedy was forced to carry over his own line defending the resulting counter.  A defensive scrummage on 77 minutes.  Not what the Embramen needed.  And Ulster secured the bonus point try that, frankly, they desefrved, as Iain henderson smashed over from short range - 20-32 for the Ulstermen with the conversion at no-side. 

 

 

 

 

SUPERSUB WEIR DELIVERS GALWAY WIN

Connacht: 22 (17) Edinburgh Rugby: 29 (13)

At kick off at the Sportsground this evening, the Embramen sat on 12 wins, bested only by conference topping Glasgow and Leinster in the PRO14 thus far. They had a nine point advantage over fourth placed Ulster in Conference B, albeit having played one match more.  Qualification for the playoffs this season and Champions Cup rugby next is in their hands.  The visit to the West of Ireland afforded an opportunity to take another big step towards achieving those goals, which looked unlikely at the start of the season.

In an error-strewn match, where Edinburgh were sometimes their own worst enemies, the Gunners' dogged this one out.  As so often this term, they got their noses in front in the final 10 minutes and duly closed the match out.

Edinburgh could not have got off to a better start.  Off the opening kick off, Hardie blocked the Connacht clearance; the ball bobbled over the tryline and 'Deadly' Dougie Fife was first to the touchdown.  Although

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FIRST BLOOD EDINBURGH IN THIRD PLACE DOUBLE HEADER. JUST.

Ulster: 16 (7) Edinburgh Rugby:17 (7)

Tonight's match was the first in two crucial encounters between these two clubs.   If Edinburgh could edge both, they would have a crucial advantage in the home straight in the playoff race over an Ulster side who have just parted ways with their longtime coach Les Kiss.  It's been a rocky season for the Ulstermen so far and they are eminently catchable, with four away matches out of six to come.

Tonight was a step in that direction fpr the Embramen as they came away with a brilliant injury time win.  It was a victory built on forward power and the sort of supreme composure at the death that is becoming their trademark.  Man of the Match Fraser McKenzie exemplified both.

Ulster dominated field position in the early exchanges, although the Gunners' defence coped well.  The Embramen were looking frisky in attack, though.  If anything, they were trying to move the ball wide a bit too early on a night where the backs didn't quite

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