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END OF AN ERA

Gunners: 34 Connacht:3



This afternoon's mach at Murrayfield saw the end of two long traditions. On the debit side, the unfortunate absence from the visiting team through long-term injury of the prodigious boot of Mark McHugh has meant that this column's tradition of making unkind - but secretly admiring - remarks about the sheer luminosity of his hairstyle has come to an end.

Rather more importantly, however, today's win also saw the Gunners complete the full set of home victories over all Celtic League clubs, having done the same on the away front last week at Stradey. And, perhaps appropriately, it was another young man whose locks are no strangers to peroxide themselves, Phil Godman, who played a key role for the home side.

It was a win built on respect for the opposition. The Gunners had done their homework on Connacht, and while Warwick's tactical kicking was often astute, the visitors simply could not get their powerful mauling game going. The Gunners' pack simply did not let them. And with Hewett dominating the front row, Murray grabbing everything in the lineout, and Mustchin and Cross menacing at the breakdown, Edinburgh simply subdued the men from the west of Ireland in the first half, setting up the fireworks in the second.

Right from the off, Edinburgh were pressing. A great driving maul sailed from the enemy 22 to just short of the try line. Blair seemingly nipped over for the opener, but was adjudged to have been held up. While the skipper missed a straightforward penalty on five minutes, it was all Edinburgh at this point. Paterson made no mistake with his second chance, slotting a penalty for handling in the ruck on 15 minutes.

While the pack were in control, the Gunners' back play lacked a little incisiveness until the end of the first quarter. A fantastic series of phases, starring Leonelli, Smith and Godman almost saw Hogg over before Connacht scrambled a clearance. The try was not long in coming, though. On 22 minutes, a fine Dougie Hall run in broken play saw Paterson then Hewett take the ball on. Di Rollo drew the last man beautifully to put Webster over for an unprovoked swallow dive that had the SRU insurers shifting nervously in their seats. The conversion made it 10-0 and a fair reflection of play.

From their first serious attack of the game on the half hour, Warwick seemed to have clawed back a dropped goal. But Connacht were penalised for footwork at the preceding ruck, albeit that the ruck-ee had not appeared to roll away after the tackle - fair game for a shoeing, one would have thought. But the visiting stand-off secured the three points shortly afterwards with a penalty.

The remainder of the half was enlivened by two yellow cards, neither of which appeared merited. Firstly, Hogg was carded for what was presumably a dangerous tackle, although he took his man squarely in the chest. Then Farley was carded for impeding Leonelli in traffic - the crowd booed impressively, but there did not seem to be much in it.

So the Gunners were in control at half-time, but really should have been further ahead. And things could have become interesting immediately after the second half kick off had Godman's excellent tackle on Warwick not stopped a dangerous visiting move in its tracks. But shortly after, an excellent Blair snipe off the base of a scrum at the Gunners' 10 put Leonelli down the right wing. The impressive full-back chipped behind the defence, Paterson kicked on and would have had the touchdown had he not been tackled without the ball. He converted the penalty try, though, to stretch the lead to 17-3.

With the dreich September evening becoming dreicher, both sides struggled to put the phases together in the drizzle. Happily, things livened up with a scintillating ten minutes around the hour. First, the Gunners called in the jinky boys. Mustchin weaved through the would-be tacklers to make progress to the Connacht 10. The ball was switched left, where Smith saw a third career try against this opposition from their 22, only to be dragged to earth. The ball was quickly flipped to Hogg, who charged down the touchline, carrying two tacklers as he went, and scored in the corner.

Five minutes later, a brilliant Leonelli ghost through the cover set up a Paterson jink, the winger then feeding Dewey outside the 22. Connacht had struggled to put the big centre down all game, and he bulldozed his way to the line, sliding over for the bonus point try, converted by Paterson.

And it was the captain himself who wrapped up the scoring for the evening. Blair stole Connacht scrum ball as the visitors disintegrated somewhat. He fed Mustchin, who committed his man and put Paterson away through the tightest of gaps for a super try - 34-3. As the clock wound down, all the replacements saw game time, and cameos by Hugo, Lawson and Kelly, in particular, illustrated the increasing strength in depth at the Gunners' disposal.

Next up is a tricky away fixture against unbeaten Ulster at Ravenhill on Friday evening, followed by the visit of the champion Ospreys. Ulster will be fresh from their impressive away win over Cardiff yesterday, while, though Henson-less, the Ospreys will represent a stiff challenge. If the Gunners are to be in the hunt for the title at the end of the season, they really need to win both these games.

MAN OF THE MATCH:

MIKE BLAIR picked up the sponsors' award for a classic sniping performance at scrum half. For what it's worth, the editorial vote goes to ROB DEWEY. He made it over the gain line every time he had the ball and looked very dangerous at inside centre, with a well-taken try. And he has a nice pair of white boots.

SCORERS:

Gunners: Paterson 1T, 1P 3C, Webster 1T, Penalty Try, Hogg 1T, Dewey 1T

Connacht: Warwick 1P

BONUS POINTS:

A new feature for this term. Given that Glasgow pipped the Gunners to the top Scottish Heineken seeding last season by only one point as a direct result of earning more bonus points than any other team in the Celtic League, this is important stuff. Bonus points earned and conceded could be crucial come the end of the season.

Today, Edinburgh wrapped up the four try bonus after an hour, while the shut out of Connacht in the second half ensured that no losing bonus point would be conceded to the visitors.


TEAMS:

EDINBURGH GUNNERS: Leonelli; Paterson (capt), Di Rollo, Dewey, Webster; Godman, Blair; Hewett, Hall, Smith, Kellock, Murray; Mustchin, Cross, Hogg.. Replacements: Kelly, Jacobsen, Pringle, Strokosch, Lawson, Hodge, Hugo

CONNACHT: Slemen; Mostyn, Yapp, Matthews, McPhillips; Warwick, Keane; Hogan, Fogarty, Knoop, Short, Farley (capt), Muldoon, Lacey, Rigney. Replacements: Venter, McFarland, Loughney, Swift, O'Connor, Tierney, Riordan.

Referee: Bollard (WRU