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EARLS BREAKS EMBRA HEARTS

Edinburgh: 13 (10) Munster: 17 (7)



When Edinburgh legend Allan 'Chunk' Jacobsen delivered the match ball before the first half started and when the sun came out at the beginning of the second, I thought that the Embramen were going to win their first Champions Cup knock out match for seven years.  The auguries seemed right.

Yet as the 36,000 crowd were gathering before kick off, someone of a Munster persuasion could easily have felt the same thing about their favourites.  Thousands had travelled from the south west of Ireland and were in good voice from the off.  Maybe they were the men of destiny.

What was clear to all, though, was that this was going to be a desperately tight match, decided by small margins.  And so it proved.  It was a massively physical confrontation of Test match intensity.  Both sides gave their all, as could be seen in the Gunners' players devastation at no side and the unbridled joy of the visitors. 

It was a story of bludgeoning forward play - mainly Edinburgh battering the Munstermen, with the men in red hanging on for dear life.  Both sides performed outstandingly at the breakdown, the Embramen winning six turnovers, Munster 11.  The Gunners dominated field position and territory throughout. But it was the visitors who managed to find that little bit of extra strength deep down that won it for them.

And it was also a story of the ability of the club with the European pedigree to grab the shadow of a chance with both hands.  'Mr Darcy' had a glorious outing in attack from the full back berth.  But, for all the yards made and defenders beaten, he could never quite elude that final tackler.  Man of the Match Keith Earls, by contrast, had two chances and took them both - a smart try off a quick tap in the first period and finishing off a fine attacking move late on in the second that gave the visitors a semi-final berth.

When they needed to, Munster upped the pace in attack, clearing the breakdown quickly.  By contrast, the Gunners had a tendency to slow their own ball down and seek to smash over and through one of the least smashable defences in European rugby.  They also struggled when the visitors put Pyrgos under pressure as he prepared to box kick.  The huge gains that the back row and van der Merwe made in Edinburgh's final, desperate attack of the match showed what might have been.

The clinical way that Munster took their chances, the carelessness with which Edinburgh squandered a number of theirs, was largely down to experience of this level of rugby.  The Gunners simply had to score on one of the two occasions they were camped in the enemy 22 early on.  And they should have killed this match when Munster were penalised for a late hit on van der Walt, only for the penalty to be reversed for an off the ball incident with Tadgh Beirne.  The latter led to Earls' crucial late second try.

The Embramen will know this, learn from it and come back stronger as they continue to develop.

They didn't get off to quite the flyer that they did against Toulouse in 2012.  But they had two spells of early pressure in the Munster 22, knocking kickable penalties to touch.  The red line held out superbly, as they did when Beirne was carded for a cynical ruck infringement that denied an excellent scoring opportunity for the home side on 11 minutes.  The short-handed Irishmen were rocking, but maintained their discipline under pressure.  So well did they do that, indeed, that they took the lead while a man down.

A Murray kick to the Edinburgh 22 went loose and van der Merwe was harshly adjudged to have carried the ball over his own tryline following what also looked like an offensive knock on.  Then Pyrgos undoubtedly did deliberately knock the ball on as it emerged from the Munster attacking scrummage and was rightly penalised.  As Murray upended the Edinburgh scrum half for his trouble, Earls tapped quickly and scooted over for a smart try.  There followed some debate on the field and in the stands but the try stood and Munster were 7-0 up.

It didn't take long to redress the balance, though.  The Gunners, putting a bit of pace on the ball in attack, were soon back in the Munster red zone.  And most in the crowd could see Chris Dean starting his run towards the sticks before the Munster defence did.  The pass duly came to put The Sweet Prince over for the try that tied things up on 27 minutes.  He has a knack of scoring pivotal tries in the really big games and this looked like it might be another one.  When van der Walt's first penalty edged the Gunners into the lead at the break, things were looking good from an Edinburgh point of view.

An exchange of penalties between Munster's replacement 10 Bleyendaal and van der Walt left the match finely balanced going into the final quarter. A testament to the Gunners' growing strength in depth was the quality that they were able to bring on - the likes of Dell, Berghan, Ritchie and Bradbury looked every bit the 'finishers' that Eddie Jones has made fashionable in recent years.

And all of them showed up very well as the Embramen looked to close this one out and reach only their second ever Heineken semi-final.  The tension was almost unbearable, the collisions immense.

Then the turning point came with just over 10 minutes left to run.  As observers were wondering whether or not the penalty awarded to Edinburgh for the late hit on van der Walt should be kicked to goal or touch, the prone figure of Beirne led to the penalty being reversed.  That, in turn, led to Earls' clinching try, which made the Gunners pay for their indiscipline.  It had been a superb match that could easily have gone the other way but, on this showing, Munster are going to be a tough nut to crack.  Their semi-final with Saracens is shaping up to be another European classic.

"We’ll dust ourselves off, we’ll have a couple of beers tonight and enjoy each other’s company and we’ll get back in on Monday.  We've got a big week next week” said Richard 'Cockers' Cockerill after no-side.  They have three PRO14 matches left to win to get them into domestic playoff rugby this season and return to the European top table next.  

Looking at the reaction of these players and their coaching team after this crushing disappointment, I believe they will do it.