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80 MINUTES OF TERROR

Edinburgh: 10 (3) Munster: 22 (17)



On Wednesday night, many watched the successful landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars. It is quite a thought that NASA can design a machine that, given the 11 minutes it takes for radio signals to reach Earth, carried out a series of complex manoeuvres, including surviving the 'Seven Minutes Of Terror' as it decelerated from 12,000 miles per hour in the Martian atmosphere, to land autonomously in a tiny target area surrounded by potential hazards over 208 million miles away.  That is a challenging task that requires incredible accuracy and perfect execution.

Sadly, these were qualities that were lacking in Edinburgh's display as Munster's control in attack, set piece and defence saw the Conference B leaders comfortably home at BT Murrayfield this evening. The Gunners had plenty of chances but they just could not take them.  In a match where they were struggling up front for most of the time, they did not have the gumption to vary their play when they were getting no change from the forward battle.  The pity of it was that when they did move the ball quickly away from contact and managed to hang on to it, they looked relatively dangerous.

In a stellar week for props in the Roseburn area, in the wake of the great WP Nel's re-signing announcement and the completion of Minifield on the back pitches, tonight was a night for Edinburgh's next generation to have a hit out. Newly signed former Cheetah loosehead 'Big' Boan Venter made his first appearance off the bench, joined by McKane legend Murray 'Muzza' McCallum.  There was beef and abrasiveness aplenty in the home back row, always handy against table topping Munster, but particularly on a blustery, damp night such as this.  Overall, the Gunners fielded a strong side with plenty of experience and quality in reserve, but their opponents, led by 240 match veteran Billy Holland, looked to have more.  And so it was to prove.

While the Embramen sat at a humble fifth in Conference B priopr to kick off, they had games in hand over those sitting above them in the European qualification slots for next season - assuming this counts in the end.  The playoffs may be out of sight now, but Edinburgh need to get back in to Champions Cup rugby and set themselves up for the Rainbow Cup in April.  That means, above all, physicality. Tonight, the Gunners were second best in the physical contest.  

There were positive individual performances, with Big Bill Mata looking like he is getting back to his best, new international Dave Cherry performing well, while this was possibly the best game that Eroni 'The Sledgehammer' Sau has had in a navy and burnt orange jersey.  But BBM can't carry the team by himself.  On the credit side, they dug in against a superior team and did not fold in the second period, as might have happened.  They even ended the match throwing the ball around in attack in the hope of securing a losing bonus. But most individuals' evenings rarely got beyond 'meh' level.  Honest endeavour is a necessary, but not sufficient, requirement for success and Edinburgh struggled to offer much more. It was the sort of gormless Gunners effort that will have had the massed remote Embra tifosi spluttering with rage and general frustration.  That was in large part due to the Irish side putting in a classic Munster performance, suffocating the life out of the match to run out deserved winners, driven by Man of the Match Holland.  The old boy's award was a sentimental one; pretty much anyone in the Munster pack would have deserved it.

Edinburgh had a good attacking chance early on, kicking a penalty to the corner, but Munster defended their maul well, their South African openside Cloete turned over ball at the breakdown, then the home back three guddled the ball at half way.  The lack of accuracy in the red zone didn't bode well in a match that would likely be tight.  But they were rewarded on eight minutes as the visitors coughed up their fourth penalty. 'Piet' van der Walt knocked over the simple three pointer for an early lead.  It was all Gunners at this point, dominating territory with their set piece looking stronger.  But on Munster's first visit to the enemy 22, they drew the breakdown penalty and Hanrahan evened things up at three apiece on 15 minutes.

Conway's botched attempt at fielding a swirling box kick on his own 22 gave the Gunners an attacking scrummage.  Sleight of hand off the set piece saw The Sledgehammer smash through the defence to come very close, then quick ball nearly saw Davidson cross in a mass of bodies, but he had earned a scrum five.   That set up a rather more sedate set of close in drives from the pack five metres out, which ultimately ended in a knock on. Munster then won a penalty on their own put in to clear the pressure.  Again, inaccuracy at the crucial moment had let the Embramen down.  You just can't afford to do that against the best teams.

On 25 minutes, a trick play from Munster on an attacking lineout followed by rapid phases nearly saw them over, but for solid home defence.  But there was an inevitability about the Munster score when O'Donoghue forced his way over for the first try of the night on the half hour, Hanrahan converting for a 3-10 away lead.  van der Walt kicked the restart dead, Munster won a penalty at the resulting scrummage on halfway and were back on the attack on Edinburgh's 22.  Deteriorating discipline and a creaking set piece were now starting to hurt the Gunners.  It was vital that they did not concede another try with five minutes to go until the break.   

But after Edinburgh had defended their line well, Casey found a gap and nipped over for a second Munster try.  Although the Gunners so nearly unlocked the defence at the death, with the breenging Mata's pass to Pyrgos behind the defence just going astray, it was a well-deserved 3-17 to the Irish province at the half.

As the rain continued to fall in the early stages of the second period and the wind advantage shifted to the visitors, the Gunners had some early pressure and kicked a penalty to the corner after Munster panicked under pressure. The maul rumbled forward and though it was stopped, the ball was shifted - crucially - quickly from a couple of drives and Big Bill powered his way over for his first try in 23 matches.  van der Walt's conversion narrowed the gap to 10-17 and this time it was Hanrahan's turn to kick the restart dead to give the Gunners a scrum on half way.

But Munster scored their third on 55 minutes.  Having knocked a scrum penalty to the corner, No 8 Coombes broke - again quickly, before the defence had had time to reset - and crossed for the unconverted touchdown.  10-22 and coach Cockerill rang the changes as 'Chico' Shiel came on to inject a bit of pace from the base.  Almost immediately the Embramen were moving the ball more quickly, Mata and Bennett to the fore, stretching the Irish defence.  An attacking maul rumbled a long way goalwards before collapsing, then it was back to the serenely paced pick and goes.  This rather played into Munster's hands, although they did eventually concede an offside penalty in front of their posts. 

Rather ambitiously, the Gunners chose the scrummage.  Munster were penalised at the scrum and Edinburgh went for another as the visitors replaced both props.  Just for a bit of variety, Munster then coughed up a scrum free kick; Edinburgh took the scrum as Venter joined the fray.  With 65 minutes on the clock, they really had to score now.  But they conceded a free kick after they had not hooked for the ball and the visitors cleared to their own 10 metre line.

Yet another Munster penalty saw the Gunners kick themselves deep into the enemy red zone once again, but a handling error allowed the visitors to clear once again.  The last quarter of an hour was dominated by reset scrums before Andrew Davidson sustained a serious knock that had him stretchered off.

The match ended with a prolonged series of Edinburgh attacks deep into injury time, punctuated by visiting penalties as they worked their way determinedly back into the enemy 22.  Could they score this time?  Instead, they coughed up ball and Munster broke, looking for a bonus point try, with only a great scrambling tackle on Conway by Sau denying them.  In many ways, this was the story of this match.