GUNNERS UP THE PACE IN SECOND HALF TO TAKE THE SPOILS
Edinburgh Rugby: 20 (7) Neathswanseaospreys: 9 (9)
I decided to take the tram to BT Murrayfield this afternoon. As I stood on board nonchalantly, watching a medium paced cyclist overtake us twice and then an elderly lady walking a small dog, I was reminded of the importance of speed of execution in many aspects of life. In rugby, quick ball wins matches. And Edinburgh took control of this evening's match against the Ospreys only when they started clearing the ball sharply from the breakdown, asking questions of an understrength but well marshalled visiting defence.
The Gunners' execution wasn't great. Roddy was denied once after the maul had rumbled over the line in the first period, albeit neither the refereee nor the TMO could have awarded the try so buried was the ball under a pile of bodies. Equally, Roddy's second half offload to Chris Dean didn't quite go to hand about a foot out from the line.
Happily, though, the Embramen notched one try in each half and were the better side throughout, after an indifferent opening quarter. The Ospreys never really looked like getting over the line, although they did manage some useful half breaks from time to time. The one real opportunity they had, off a perfectly struck Garryowen into the enemy 22, was pouched magnificently by Man of the Match Greig Tonks. The set piece had a mixed evening, but what really stood out for me was the quality of the home maul defence. It was rock solid.
There were times in the first half, in particular, when it seemed that the Gunners overdid the 10 man rugby. Tom 'Schooldays' Brown, looked very sharp when he had an opportunity, as did Damien Hoyland on the other wing. Meanwhile Burleigh was always a threat taking the ball up at first five-eighth and Tonks was a busy presence at full back. I would have liked to have seen Sean Kennedy whip the ball away from the breakdown much faster to prise open the holes in the defence further out.
Edinburgh were second best in the first quarter. They could not seem to get out of their own half and found themselves at the wrong end of the penalty count. Former Junior Wolrd Player of the Year, Ben Davies, had an erratic evening in most respects, but managed to take two out of four penalty opportunities to see the visitors 6-0 up on 20 minutes. It was pretty turgid stuff, but the Welsh side were good value for their lead.
Gradually, the Gunners won more field position and exerted a bit of control. In an extraordinary period around the half hour mark they kicked three penalties to the corner and mauled from the lineouts, only for the Ospreys to cough up another penalty. A card eventually came when Smith was penalised for lying on Edinburgh ball. After the TMO had - rightly - ruled that Roddy had been held up, the pattern changed to the Ospreys conceding penalties at Edinburgh five metre scrummages under huge pressure. Referee Brace - yet another Irish whistler to have emerged from obscurity; where do they find them all? - could well have awarded a penalty try.
As it was, the Gunners eventually did cross, Kennedy cleverly feeding Burleigh off ruck ball against the grain for the first five-eighth to scoot over in the corner, superbly converted by Tonks. Disappointingly, Edinburgh managed to concede a penalty at the restart, allowing Davies to edge the visitors 9-7 ahead at the break. The Embramen had been on top throughout the second quarter and one felt that upping the pace just a little in the second period would see them take advantage of that.
They started off brightly following the interval and spent the first ten minutes of the second period camped in and around the enemy 22. Eventually, Tonks took the opportunity to put them ahead with a penalty on 47 minutes. 10-9 up, a lead that they would not surrender. Gradually, the pressure began to tell. After Tom Brown made quite the best attacking take of a high ball that I have seen for some years, Hamish Watson really made his presence felt in attack and at the breakdown. Edinburgh were much sharper and Cracknell was carded for a dangerous tackle on the hour as the Welsh defence was stretched. Tonks' second penalty took the lead to 13-9, a handy advantage in a tight game.
Burleigh and Tonks kept the home side playing the game deep in the Ospreys' half with the clock ticking down. The inevitable breaking point came on 74 minutes, when the Gunners' maul sailed serenely over the line and John Andress touched down under the sticks. Jack Cuthbert's straightforward conversion made the final score 20-9 Edinburgh, denying the visitors a losing bonus point. And bonus points will be crucial at the business end of the season.
The win leaves the Gunners on 12 points, equal top of the league with Munster. The next round, agaist Ulster, will be a real test of where the squad is at the moment. For now, though, they have got off to a great start.