STORMIN' START TO EURO CAMPAIGN
Edinburgh Rugby: 28 (11) FC Grenoble: 10 (0)
The unfolding tragedy in Paris tonight puts a mere game of rugby into perspective. Our thoughts are with all those affected and with the people of France.
I'll be honest, I was thinking about not splashing my way along to BT Murrayfield this evening. Winter has definitively arrived as Storm Abigail gets journalists excited with talk of the worst gales in 140 years and all that. It's not always much fun watching any sport in these conditions.
I'm glad I did turn up in the end, though, not least as the match was not being shown live on TV - or not on a platform that I can access, at any rate. Happily, in front of over 3,200 hardy souls, the Embramen showed rather more character than I had in meteorological conditions that were well-suited to their current strengths up front. This was a night for sticking the match ball up the jumper and rumbling towards the tryline. A night for the big beasts. A night for a guy like Dave Denton.
Sadly, though, Dents has made the decision to join Bath - just when the young economist looked to have learned how to pass too. He has been a massive presence in this Edinburgh squad and will be much missed. But these young men have short careers and have to do what's right for them. One hopes that he continues his development in what is a strong club. Best wishes to him.
The back row remains an area of huge strength for the Gunners, mind. Tonight's starting combo of Coman, Hardie and du Preez was supported by real quality on the bench in Watson and Manu. Whatever the ambient temperature, it's tough not to be excited by that quintet. It was a particular pleasure to see John Hardie make his Embra debut. He's looked great for the national side and will be great for us.
Perhaps unsurprisingly on such a night, it was indeed the pack that delivered the victory. They dominated the set piece, controlled the lineout and scored all three of the home side's tries. Either side of a penalty try awarded off another awesome scrummage, Man of the Match Cornell du Preez notched a brace of touchdowns from driving mauls to cap an all round performance as impressive as his lengthy beard. Tonight's centurion, Al Dickinson, and the front row collectively - replacements as well as starters - did a number on the visitors, while Alex Toolis put in another shift that reminded one of, well, his twin brother.
After a scrappy first couple of minutes, where both sides understandably struggled to hold on to ball in monsoon conditions, Edinburgh got on the board on five minutes. Tonks kicked the Gunners deep into the 22 after Grenoble had been pinged for a maul offence. Toolis took the throw, the pack drove forward so quickly they could have been playing unopposed and du Preez scored his first. SHC missed the difficult conversion, but it was a good start.
Credit to the visitors, who came right back and looked like they were here to play some rugby. They somehow rescued ball off a rapidly retreating scrummage and went down the blindside, but a wild pass into touch ruined a great chance for Kilioni, who looked like he would have strolled over otherwise. That was quite possibly Grenoble's best chance of the night and both they and Edinburgh had a tendency to throw away good attacking positions with sloppy handling.
Edinburgh took a grip of the match thereafter. Although the French defence came up very quickly and proved very difficult to break down, the Embramen were dominating ball and field position. As a result, the penalties came, Grenoble coughing up nine in the first half, many from scrum offences. When openside Alexandre was carded on the half hour, Edinburgh took advantage of the power play to knock over two penalties, taking the score at the break to 11-0. Not cantering away with the contest, but it was increasingly difficult to see how Grenoble could get into this game. The Gunners were making plenty of avoidable errors, but the sheer power of their scrummage was rescuing them.
An exchange of penalties in the early stages after the break saw the Embramen 14-3 up entering the middle quarter of the second half. Then Dougie Fife exploded through a gap and cantered past a hooker to slice the defence wide open. But his scoring pass to the supporting Helu did not quite go to hand and the chance was lost.
They were looking to finish this one and WP 'WP' Nel was just bundled into touch in the corner after taking up ball from a collapsed maul. That set up a series of attacking scrums for Edinburgh. Given that pretty much every time there was a scrummage, Grenoble were penalised, all the Gunners had to do was to get a good drive on towards the line and the penalty try would surely be theirs. This duly arrived on the hour after a couple of close things. The SHC extras pushed the advantage out to 21-3 and a try bonus was the next target as coach Solomons replaced some key players, the match now won.
But on a night when few observers would have been able to feel their feet, both sides rather lost their heads in the final 10 minutes. Firstly, Nemani was red carded for saying something that must have been pretty spectacular to referee Whitehouse. Then Grenoble scored a surreal try with Edinburgh pressing. Matt Scott's fly hack landed in Kilioni's arms and the winger scooted 80 yards to score in the corner. While he hadn't had the presence of mind to run behind the posts, Hart kicked a fine goal and the Frenchmen were 21-10 down with the chance of a losing bonus point, at least, still there.
Normal service was resumed at the stroke of no-side, though, when du Preez rounded off another powerful driving maul with his second try, converted by SHC for a comfortable 28-10 victory. It should have been more, though, and a little more composure at key moments would surely have delivered a try bonus. Currently, the pack are doing their job, but the half backs are not bringing their strike runners further out into play effectively. That needs to change.