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BATTLING DISPLAY IN CARDIFF SECURES A BONUS

Cardiff Blues: 18 (13) Edinburgh Gunners: 17 (10)



The Gunners began with their Heineken campaign with a coulda, shoulda sort of performance against the Blues.  Although it could so easily have resulted in a narrow away victory, which would have been the perfect start to the campaign, at least they managed to salvage a losing bonus point.  Last night, Northampton bested Castres by 18-14.  It looks like it will be a tight group, so every point could count.

But, as ever in this tournament, when you have even a sniff of an away win, you really have to take it.  Although winning in Castres and Northampton is undoubtedly possible, one feels that Edinburgh have just thrown away a golden opportunity.

Say what you like about the Embra selection for this match - and I am still not convinced - but the three whippet visiting back row did the business at the breakdown, denying Cardiff quick ball and harrying Dan Parks so much that the Blues never really got into their stride.  Unusually, the former Glasgow playmaker missed his first three pots at goal and did not look comfortable all night.  They did have the upper hand in the set piece, though, and in the end it was the physicality of the Cardiff pack that saw them emerge with a narrow home win.

With the locals turning up expecting an easy victory, ace hitman Allan 'Chunk' Jacobsen recorded his second try in two weeks, while Chris Paterson notched a penalty, as Edinburgh held a 10-0 lead for a while in the first period.  Indeed, the Gunners looked the better side in the first half hour.  But Cardiff hit back with the break in sight - two Parks penalties and a try by Chris Czekaj gave the Blues a 13-10 half time lead.

Embra missed a golden opportunity to take the lead after the break, Blair D racing into the Cardiff 22 after his own fly hack of a loose ball.  But instead of taking the ball himself, he tried to feed the onrushing Geoff Cross in support.  Sadly, the medically qualified man mountain's hands look unlikely to be conducting keyhole surgery any time soon, The Planet's Poshest Prop guddling the ball with the line at his mercy. 

Edinburgh pounded at the Blues' line going into the last ten minutes.  But with desperately slow ball they went nowhere.  Parks hoofed the ball downfield after Embra had turned over in an attacking position.  Cardiff enjoyed a few minutes of concerted pressure, with Xavier Rush eventually putting Laulala over for the unconverted touchdown - an All Black one-two.  Although there were eleven minutes left on the clock following lengthy injury stoppages, one felt that the bigger Blues pack would grind out the win.

Yet with some Welsh observers reverting to thoughts of a bonus point win for the home side, it was the Gunners who surged back, with Greig Laidlaw on for Blair M putting Blair D in space, racing into the enemy 22.  Good defence from the Blues seemed to have stopped the danger close in, but the ball was quickly shifted wide for Ben 'Cairnsy' Cairns to cross for a fine try.  Seven minutes left on the clock, and Chris Paterson knocked over the conversion to take the deficit to just one point - 18-17 Blues.

If Embra could force a Cardiff penalty within kicking range, Mossy would surely give them the win.  The Blues were under massive pressure.  Edinburgh were flying up in defence in an effort to win the ball, but Cardiff, directed by Dan Parks, were keeping it tight, working their way to the Edinburgh 22 until a knock on gave Edinburgh a chance with a scrummage.  But they were not able to get far enough upfield into the position to nick the win and Cardiff just held on. 

Northampton at Murrayfield next week.  A must win match.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Kiwi centre CASEY LAULALA's direct style secured tonight's prize.

TEAMS:

Cardiff Blues: Ben Blair; Leigh Halfpenny, Casey Laulala, Tom Shanklin, Chris Czekaj; Dan Parks, Richie Rees; Gethin Jenkins, Rhys Thomas, Taufa'ao Filise, Bradley Davies, Paul Tito (capt), Maama Molitika, Martyn Williams, Xavier Rush.
Replacements: Rhys Williams, John Yapp, Scott Andrews, Deiniol Jones, Sam Warburton, Lloyd Williams, Ceri Sweeney, Dafydd Hewitt.

Edinburgh: Chris Paterson; Jim Thompson, Ben Cairns, Alex Grove, Tim Visser; David Blair, Mike Blair; Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Scott MacLeod, Fraser McKenzie, Alan MacDonald, Ross Rennie, Roddy Grant (capt).
Replacements: Andrew Kelly, Kyle Traynor, David Young, Craig Hamilton, Netani Talei, Greig Laidlaw, James King, Mark Robertson.

Referee: Romain Poite (France).