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BRAVE DAVE IS THE FAVE

Edinburgh Rugby: 26 (20) Llaneli Scarlets: 23 (6)



I altered my pre-match routine this week. After enjoying a very pleasant - and reasonably priced - cognac in The Wanderers' clubhouse, I settled down to watch what I hoped would not be more of the same on the park as we have become used to in the Rabo recently.  Happily, Embra also changed things a bit themselves.  They won.

There was almost an air of a final pre-season match about the affair, with so many internationals returning to the fray.  Inevitably, there was still a lack of accuracy about much of the home side's play as a result.  But they managed to take some of the many chances that they created and had the character to come back into the match in the final quarter, when it seemed as thought the Scarlets might nick it.  One would not want to get too carried away by some aspects of the performance that looked great, particularly the scrummage.  Llanelli are not one of the stronger scrummaging units in the Rabo; Toulouse are one of the best in Europe.  So while smashing the enemy scrum, as the Gunners did on numerous occasions last night, was good, no-one should be under any illusions that the French side will offer a far tougher challenge.  And they will come after the Embra scrummage too, if past history is any guide.

There were times when Embra looked sharp in attack, despite Visser and his opposite number George North rather cancelling each other out.  They made plenty of breaks and some of the offloads that didn't quite go to hand this time should do with the benefit of another week together and the incentive of a Heineken semi-final to play for.  Their defence was generally sound, with the exception of a fifteen minute spell in the second period when not a few of the side seem to have been switched to standby mode.

Dave Denton was a deserved Man of the Match, making ground pretty much every time he took the ball up.  The only pity was that the support runners were often too slow to take advantage.  Stuart 'Rambo' McInally had a fantastic match in the loose and the tight, a commanding presence towards the back of the lineout.  He looked so much cheerier at 8 than he had done at openside against the Newporters.  And Ross Rennie, his card apart, was his usual highly effective self at the breakdown.

Statutory Matt Scott tribute paragraph: The Currie man had another impressive match, popping up at first receiver a number of times, particularly in the first half.  His pace and lines of running opened up various opportunities which, on another night, might have seen the Gunners put Llanelli away early in the second half.  Tom 'Schooldays' Brown looked very secure under the high ball and buccaneering in attack.  And wasn't it great to see Lee Jones back in harness?

There was much grumbling among the Embra tifosi about the performance of referee Fitzgibbon.  Yet while he put in his usual quixotic performance with the whistle, Llanelli were generally on the receiving end.  The Scarlets were pinged ten (count' em) times in the first period to Embra's two, with the overall penalty count being Embra 5, Scarlets 14.  And he certainly knew where his card was, sending Manu, Rees and Rennie to kick their heels for a bit at various times.

 Priestland got the visitors on the board early with a penalty, cancelled out by Laidlaw immediately afterwards.  In the early probing, both sides carved open some opportunities.  Lee Jones did well to snuff out the danger from a speculative hoof into the 22, while Scott looked to have put Visser into wide open prairie, albeit rightly called for a massively forward pass. In defence, the Gunners were employing the Irish-style 'choke' tackle to good effect, holding enemy runners up to win the scrummage.

After Laidlaw had put the home side ahead with a penalty on 16 minutes, Edinburgh started to open up a bit of a gap.  On 19 minutes, they kicked a penalty to the corner.  After a couple of close-in drives, the ball was whipped to just in front of the posts, where a fine flip from Rennie allowed Denton to crash through the defence and ground the ball on the post for the opening try, converted by Laidlaw.  Things looked like they were starting to click for Embra, with only a forward pass denying Brown a good chance of the second, while Ross Ford was putting himself about a bit with ball in hand.  One particularly memorable charge left enemy tighthead Manu on the deck for several minutes as the rampaging Kelso man, erm, rampaged over him.

Although Priestland knocked over a second penalty on 32 minutes, what should have been the decisive spell in the game followed.  Edinburgh had several opportunities to score off attacking lineout ball, but lineout catastrophes or poor hands denied them.  Then Manu was penalised at the breakdown - the Scarlets' ninth infringement of the half - and was carded.  Shortly afterwards, a hyper-cynical Rees deliberate knock on in front of his own posts saw the hooker also binned.  Llanelli were down to 13 men and the Gunners took their chance.  With the clock perilously close to 40 minutes, they scorned the easy three points and took the scrummage.  It was no surprise to see the Scarlets pack being shunted backwards and no surprise, either, to see the referee awarding the penalty try as they collapsed deliberately.  20-6 Edinburgh at the break.  With two men of an advantage they should have kicked on after the restart and put these guys away.

Yet while there was a fair bit of ambition, one felt that they kicked too much ball away at times and lacked urgency at others while the enemy was short-handed.  The double power play came to an end with Llanelli having weathered the storm.  Indeed, it was they who were next on the board, Priestland notching his third penalty on 52 minutes.  And they worked the ball well along the left wing shortly afterwards to put Fenby over for a converted try.  Four points down with 25 minutes left - assuredly well in contention.

Laidlaw stretched the gap back to seven with his third penalty just before the hour but the Scarlets had definitely stepped up a gear.  And after Rennie was, correctly, carded for a dangerous tackle on 67 minutes, replacement stand off Stephen Jones created the space for the impressive Davies to cross.  23 apiece entering the final ten minutes and Edinburgh a man down themselves.

But the Gunners dug in and built field position in the Llanelli 22, forcing the penalty, which Laidlaw kicked.  Although the Scarlets came close at the death, the Embra defence held and they began the most important 10 days in the history of the club with a morale-boosting win over a quality side. 

All eyes now turn to 1500 hrs next Saturday at Murrayfield.  Don't dare miss it.

 

MAN OF THE MATCH: A massive display of ball carrying by a massive man, DAVE DENTON.

SCORERS:

Edinburgh: Laidlaw 4P 2C, Denton 1T, Penalty try

Llanelli: Priestland 3P 1C, S Jones 1C, Fenby 1T, J Davies 1T

TEAMS:

Edinburgh: T. Brown, Jones, De Luca, Scott, T. Visser, Laidlaw, M. Blair, Jacobsen, Ford, Cross, Gilchrist, Cox, Denton, Rennie, McInally. Replacements: Thompson for T. Brown (32), Leck for M. Blair (74), Grant for McInally (66). Not Used: Kelly, Traynor, Gilding, Lozada, Godman.

Scarlets: L. Williams, North, Maule, J. Davies, Fenby, Priestland, G. Davies, R. Jones, M. Rees, Manu, Timani, Day, Turnbull, J. Edwards, Murphy. Replacements: Lamont for Maule (43), S. Jones for Priestland (61), John for R. Jones (67), Owens for M. Rees (72), Welch for Day (67). Not Used: P. Edwards, Gilbert, L. Davies.

Att: 2,969

Ref: Fitzgibbon (IRFU)