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BEHOLD THE BEAST

Edinburgh Rugby: 19 (6) Connacht: 14 (0)



Greig Laidlaw may have won a second Man of the Match award in succession for a tidy display at Murrayfield this evening, but to my mind the worthy winner would have been Shaun 'The Beast' Knight, the tighhead signed on a 6 week loan deal from Gloucester.  This kid was born to prop.  While Allan Jacobsen spooks his opponent with his trademark sneer and film star looks, The Beast's steely cyborg stare was tonight the precursor to a devastating scrummaging performance.  It would be interesting to see him against a top class loosehead, but all six of the visiting Connacht front rowers used tonight will be having nightmares for some time to come after being comprehensively bested and beasted by the Edinburgh front row in the set piece.  With the Gunners' lineout functioning well, again Gilchrist and Turnbull to the fore, Edinburgh had an excellent platform on which to build.

That they did not was due to a number of factors, many of which were within their own control.  It was a wet night and Embra's ambition to play a wide game nevertheless was always going to risk handling errors.  But there were too many of them and the support play, while better than at Swansea last week, was still too patchy.  The back line that the Gunners fielded was a very exciting one, with every man more than capable of making line breaks against these opponents.  But support was often too far from the ball carrier and rucks were not cleared quickly enough. Meanwhile, there were a few schoolboy errors that cost Embra dear.  Anxious parents among the crowd could be seen covering their offspring's eyes in alarm, lest the nippers should see one obscenely bad effort at a restart take by Dave Denton, which led directly to a completely avoidable Connacht penalty in the third quarter that brought them to within three points.  That was a shame as he is looking very good and if he can hold on to the ball a bit better, he is going to be a devastating force.  Maybe he should borrow Tom Smith's gloves now that the old boy has no need of them.

Sad to say, another factor in the home failure to kick on and win this match by some distance was referee Calzone's failure to get a grip of the breakdown.  When he warned the visitors on five minutes that he was already getting tired of their blatant ball killing at the breakdown, one had high hopes that this was a whistler determined to see a fair contest for the ball on the floor, which would have delivered an open match as a result.  Unfortunately, his bark proved much worse than his bite.  Although he did eventually get round to carding visiting full back Duffy late in the first half, if anything Connacht's infringing became even more of a feature of the match in the second period and the officials did nothing especially noteworthy about it. 

It took over half an houir for anyone to score anything tonight, Laidlaw's penalty on 33 minutes putting the home side ahead.  While Connacht had started brightly, enjoying five minutes of pressure from the kick off, Edinburgh had gradually gained control.  Strangely, though, it was a Connacht breakout after Denton had lost the ball in a barging run deep into the enemy 22 on eight minutes that almost saw the opening try.  Superb tracking back by Lee Jones saw the winger make a brilliant try-saving tackle in the corner.

There was a fair bit of huffing and puffing over the rest of the first period, but one felt that Edinburgh needed to show just a bit more patience and the scores would come.  There was much to be excited about in the play of young folk such as Brown and, when he came on in the second half, Hunter.  And as they grow in experience, they will improve their decision making at key times.  As it was, Laidlaw slotted a second penalty during the power play to take the score to 6-0 Edinburgh at the break.

Connacht started the second period well and were rewarded by a Jarvis penalty just before the suspiciously short sin bin period came to an end.  Two Laidlaw penalties and two further Connacht three pointers followed in the next ten minutes, leaving the match 12-9 Edinburgh and all to play for going into the final quarter.

Edinburgh had some good pressure on the right wing and looked to have engineered a try-scoring opportunity, but Tom Brown chose to take the ball up himself when one felt he could more profitably have released the man outside and the chance was gone.  Yet while Embra were now enjoying good field position, one could see them conceding a freak score and having to play catch up.

But it was Edinburgh who were to notch a freak score, Denton blocking a Connacht grubber around the Edinburgh 10 and charging after it.  He was clearly tackled off the ball by a Connacht defender when in hot pursuit, but replacement stand off Gregor Hunter hacked on and was first to the ball in the in-goal area for an opportunist try in the corner.  Laidlaw's fine conversion put Embra ten points to the good with 12 minutes left on the clock. 19-9 and time to shut up shop.

Unfortunately, Embra did not do so and O'Connor scooted over for a well-taken try, but his missed conversion left the Galwegians needing a try to tie with five minutes to go.  Edinburgh made heavy weather of closing out the win, with Visser of all people giving away an idiotic penalty for tackling a Connacht attacker off the ball when the individual in question was never going to get to the ball he'd hacked on first.  But they made it in the end and are now off the mark.

They are still not quite clicking, but the pieces of the jigsaw continue to come together.  This is a match that, shorn of their World Cup players, they could easily have lost.  But they dug in to win and really should have prevailed comfortably.  They should be aiming to go to Aironi next week to win and to win well.

MAN OF THE MATCH: GREIG LAIDLAW.  His combination with Gregor Hunter in the second half looked a bit more threatening than with Chris Leck in the first. 

SCORERS:

Edinburgh: Laidlaw 4P 1C, Hunter 1T

Connacht: Jarvis 3P, O'Connor 1T 1P

TEAMS:

Edinburgh: T. Brown, Jones, Thompson, King, Visser, Laidlaw, Leck, Traynor, Lawrie, The Beast, Gilchrist, S. Turnbull, Cox, Grant, Denton. Replacements: Scott for King (79), Hunter for Leck (52), Hislop for Traynor (62), Kelly for Lawrie (62), McInally for Gilchrist (60). Not Used: Niven, Lozada, Black.

Connacht: Duffy, McCrea, Griffin, Fa'afili, O'Halloran, Jarvis, F. Murphy, Loughney, Reynecke, Ah You, Swift, McCarthy, Muldoon, J. O'Connor, Naoupu. Replacements: Tuohy for McCrea (67), O'Donohoe for F. Murphy (60), Wilkinson for Loughney (50), Flavin for Reynecke (60), Rogers for Ah You (44), Ofisa for Naoupu (37). Not Used: Gannon, N. O'Connor.

Referee: Falzone (FIR)