Edinburgh Rugby: 45 (21) Newportgwentdragons: 16 (9)
All human life was at BT Murrayfield this evening. They came in their deerstalkers, in their biker leathers, wearing their Beats Audio headphones. They came with their children. They came from as far as west-central Scotland. They came with a sense of expectation. Many determined bearded men gathered in the national stadium.
Fittingly, then, it was a man with a fine beard and a full head of hair, Ben Toolis, who carried off the man of the match crown after the Embramen gave visiting Newport the mother of all shellackings to cruise into the European Challange Cup final at The Stoop in a fortnight's time. The Bearded Wonder played a central role in the forward dominance that laid the foundation for a big score. He bossed the lineout, the front five obliterated their opposite numbers, his carrying in the loose was outstanding. And not only did he charge down a kick that led to one of the Gunners' five tries, but he scored that one himself.
It's a bit cliched on such occasions to say that everyone was outstanding after a win like this, but cliches become cliches because there is an element of truth in them. It was certainly true tonight. After a relatively even first quarter, this one was over as a contest with half an hour left. If it had been a fight, the referee would have stopped it. Oddly enough, undercover Irishman JP Doyle managed to card three Newporters during the evening and yet still managed to give the visitors every chance to stay in this game. There probably should have been a fourth card when Dorian Jones took Cuthbert out in the air with no effort to look for the high ball, while Faletau's card after an offence that stopped the Edinburgh maul rumbling over the Dragons' line should surely also have led to a penalty try. And Edinburgh themselves left a fair few points on the park with the odd early shove at an attacking scrummage or missed penalty touchfinder costing them good scoring opportunities. In a way, Newport were fortunate to keep the score as low as 45 points.
I have seen the future at first five-eighth for the Gunners and its name is Phil Burleigh. Then again, I said that about Rory Hutton a few years back and he's never been heard of since. One thinks back on the way the ten controlled this match and words like 'imperious', 'majestic' and the like come to mind. He kicked beautifully all evening, keeping the Gunners in the right part of the paddock and catching the Dragons' defence rushing up; he brought his backs into the game intelligently; and he posed a threat himself with ball in hand. He really was a joy to watch and gelled beautifully with SHC at half back. It is a combination I would like to see regularly in future.
Meanwhile, another individual playing out of position shone, in the form of Stuart McInally. I was just getting used to the idea of Rambo fast becoming a quality front row operator and he goes and puts in such a terrific shift at blindside tonight. He fully deserved his try and formed a well balanced back row with Captain Coman and Roddy Grant.
The Dragons were on the board first, Jones knocking over a penalty on two minutes. There had already been a bit of extra-curricular action off the ball and both sides looked up for it. When Faletau was carded on 10 minutes, SHC converted his first penalty. Then Beard, one felt, could have backed himself as he gathered a Dragon fumble in defence and broke out, but the Gunners still made it to the enemy tryline only to be pinged for holding on at the breakdown.
The first try of the night was not long in coming. On 15 minutes, Fife made good ground on the right, then Rambo punched through the first line of defence and broke two scramble tackles on the line to score, converted by SHC as the anthemic 'Fight For Your Right' was heard for the first time in the evening on the BT Murrayfield tannoy. 10-3 Embra.
After Jones had pulled a three pointer back, Edinburgh crossed the whitewash a second time early in the second quarter. Patient phases worked them into the Newporters' 22. From breakdown ball very tight on the left wing, SHC broke on the blindside and executed the first of a few 'Sammy Flips', his offload putting Visser cantering along the touchline to beat the cover and score in the corner. 22-6 up and one that's worth seeing again a few times.
There was an exchange of penalties to leave the score just before the break 18-9 Embra. But one felt that the Gunners' power game was really softening the Welsh side up and gaps would open later in the match. The home side were not without finesse, though. Lovely sleight of hand between Burleigh and Fife almost saw Deadly sprinting away for a score on 37 minutes. Then came a score in injury time that typified the match. Once agin, the home scrummage destroyed their opposite numbers, forcing the penalty, which SHC converted for a 21-9 margin. If there was a worry, it was that the game should have been out of sight and an early Newport score in the second period might turn the tide.
The atmosphere was excellent, though, and it what a wonderful feeling it must have been at half time for Currie and Boroughmuir minis to play in front of such a raucous and appreciative crowd in the national stadium.
Things became a bit more subdued just after the resumption, though, when Harris crossed for a short-range try after the Dragons had worked a linout maul very well. 21-16 and all to play for it seemed.
The momentum returned to Edinburgh for good on 47 minutes. Firstly, Jones was fortunate not to be carded after taking Cuthbert out in the air, the big full back having to limp off injured shortly afterwards. Then Burleigh ghosted round the blindside and nearly made it over, only Evans' cynical offence denying the playmaker, for which he was carded. Although the Gunners made a mess of the resulting scrummage, Toolis charged down Tovey's clearance and sprinted like Usain Bolt to reach the ball just before it rolled over the dead ball line. Murrayfield is famous for the vast expanses of its in-goal areas, but they looked to have been cut down this evening, presumably due to tournament rules. SHC's conversion made it 28-16 Embra on 53 minutes and it was Fight For Your Right time again.
Any faint hope that the Dragons might have entertained was extinguished on the hour. Once again, the Gunner scrummage annihilated the Welsh scrummage to take ball against the head. SHC jinked through the defence and put his foot on the gas, beating four defenders to cross under the posts. His conversion left the score 38-16 going into the final quarter. There was no way back for the Newporters now and there were times in the last 20 that they lost their discipline completely.
The fifth try came on 67 minutes and it was a beauty. Roddy ripped ball in the tackle on halfway, the ball was shifted quickly wide for Ford to put Beard racing goalwards from distance. I thought he had the gas to go all the way, but he gave to Fife for the winger to cross. SHC converted superbly to leave the score 45-16 Embra with ten minutes left.
Two highlights of the remainder of the match for me. Firstly, the welcome return to action of Cornell du Preez after his long injury lay off; a big hit suggested that he's feeling frisky. Secondly, the Embramen did not ease off and defended solidly when Newport tried manfully to notch a consolation try. In the end, though, this was a comprehensive victory and the Gunners fully deserved the ovation they received on no-side.
I know some folk are a bit sniffy about this competition. But if it's good enough for recent winners Northampton, Leinster, Biarritz and Harlequins - and, going a bit further back, Clermont - I think it's good enough for the Embramen. Just you go down south and win it in two weeks, lads, and we'll worry about all that later.