MUCH IMPROVED ATTITUDE REWARDED WITH A DRAW
EDINBURGH RUGBY: 20 (10) LLANELLI SCARLETS:20 (17)
Watching Embra at the moment is increasingly reminiscent of Saturday evenings in childhood spent watching 'Dr Who' on the telly. Dr Who has the ability to travel back in time. So do the Gunners, playing as they do a style of rugby that even the limited England side of the mid-80s would think was a bit old-fashioned. The best place to watch 'Dr Who' was always, of course, from behind a sofa. One arrived at Murrayfield this evening expecting to find that a consignment of sofas and other soft furnishings had been delivered to the pitchside standing area, enabling premium patrons to retreat behind them should events on the pitch become too terrifying.
Yet although long passages of play on the hi-tech new surface were indeed pretty frightening - and a visiting try scored within the first minute induced fits of the vapours and deja vu among the Embra tifosi - somehow the Embramen managed to escape with a draw in a late rally. Indeed, on an evening when the Guners' decision-making and absence of nous was generally disappointing, it was actually the Scarlets who came closest to shooting themselves in the head. An overly ambitious Llanelli attempt to run a penalty after time expired backfired badly, giving Tom Heathcote a shot at goal from halfway. His effort fell short and, while it would have been very amusing had the Embra side nicked a win in this manner, it would have been a travesty.
Reflecting on this match, I am once again reminded of the great Brian Clough's famous advice to his Nottingham Forest side in the good old days:
"If YOU have the ball and you are in THEIR half, THEY CANNOT SCORE!"
Edinburgh were second best in both possession and field position. They played far too much of this match deep in their own half, and very little of it close to the enemy's red zone. Yet on the rare occasions when they had some pressure, guess what? They scored. When they cleared ball quickly from the breakdown, when they put some width on the ball, they threatened. Visser scored probably the best try of the evening in the corner, while Phil Burleigh's first touchdown for the capital side came off dynamic forward play, the outside centre running a good line and crashing through two defenders over the line. This was a hint of what these guys can do.
Unfortunately, though, these were mere flashes of hope in a pretty gloomy picture. As in Swansea, a lack of accuracy at the lineout and with ball in hand cost Edinburgh dear. What should have been a platform wasn't even a lottery. One was always confident that an attacking Embra lineout would be botched, as they tended to be. Even in defence, which was much improved on last weekend, there were lapses. Williams' try came off a tap penalty given for a moronic ruck offence and was entirely avoidable - it was not the only stupid penalty given away on the floor. When you're struggling to create much yourself, it's not a great idea to throw away points in the way that the Gunners did.
And yet they somehow clung on. Llanelli will be asking themselves some pretty searching questions - why did they not kick on in the second period when they had been comfortably ahead in the first? Why was this game not out of sight when the rather card happy referee Mr Clancy had given two yellows at key moments? But credit to the Embramen. They let themselves down badly last weekend, but their attitude was much improved this outing. There was real fight and physicality about them at Murrayfield. Let's hope they build on that.
Scarlets' Harry Robinson scored almost instantly from the kick off, chasing a kick behind the defence and beating Heathcote to the touchdown. It was a tactic that Llanelli overplayed this evening, but having been successful so early, one could understand why they did it. An exchange of penalties between Heathcote and Priestland saw the score 10-3 Scarlets at the end of the first quarter.
Full back Williams scored after Aled Davies had taken a quick tap; just reward for the Scarlets' territorial dominance and superior ambition. But just before the break, Edinburgh injected some pace into a series of phases deep in the visitors' 22. Off a breakdown under the posts, the ball was shipped quickly left, where Edinburgh had an overlap. Heathcote's long pass found Visser cantering along the wing to cross. The stand-off's conversion made the half time score 17-10 Scarlets. While the Gunners were fortunate to be so close on the run of play, especially as they gave away another silly penalty shortly after the Visser try, which was botched by Priestland, one felt that they might not be so lucky in the second period.
Andress seemed a mite unlucky to be carded at the breakdown shortly after the restart, but Priestland made no mistake with the simple penalty and things were looking ominous for the black and red. They were sturggling to win any sort of field position and their lineout continued to misfire. Heathcote's second penalty, on 50 minutes, gave them a bit of hope, however. And hope sprang eternal when our old adversary, John Barclay, found himself carded with eight minutes remaining.
The Embramen kicked to the corner and managed to win ball and drive a maul close. Kennedy retrieved the ball quickly and while one felt he could have nipped through a big hole in the defence ahead of him, he fed Burleigh at pace. The replacement centre smashed his way over, Heathcote's conversion setting up a pulsating finale. In the end, though, it was not to be. The result was hard on Llanelli, but was a reward for the Gunners' mental toughness.
I'm afraid that the Embramen have still not reached the dizzy heights of 'hopeless' with this performance, not least as they really should have lost. But there is at least something there that they can build on. They will need to do much better when they visit Belfast next Friday.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Sam Beard