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EURO HOPES LOOKING RATHER LESS HOPEFUL

Edinburgh Rugby:13 Dragons: 17



The Gunners' European campaign was dealt a fairly severe below-the-belt blow this afternoon at Murrayfield as they went down fighting to the Newport-Gwent Dragons. Despite playing some pleasing rugby at times, roared on by an increasingly vociferous - and sometimes exasperated - home crowd, little errors in dangerous positions again cost them dearly.

The Dragons, though, deseved to edge the game. Their passing out of the tackle was excellent, they scored two superb tries, and they played youthful Irish whistler MacDowell better than the home team to get their own Heineken challenge back on track after a home reverse against the Falcons the preceding week. Meanwhile, the Gunners are left needing to win all four remaining games, pick up a few bonus points along the way, and hope for favourable results elsewhere if last year's qualification is to be repeated. Not impossible, but a tall order.

After a scrappy opening period, the Dragons were the first to threaten, with a Sweeney bomb needing an excellent tackle by Hugo on Luscombe to save the try. But a minute later, Sweeney stroked a penalty for offside to take the visitors into the lead.

The Newporters followed that up with a sublime try on the quarter-hour. From a great Baber break off a scrum at half-way, the scrum-half floated a cute chip forward. Right winger Wyatt caught the ball without breaking stride and scorched over for the converted try. 10-0 Dragons.

The Gunners gradually came back into the game, with a characteristic Webster run through traffic setting up Paterson for a penalty for offside on 22 minutes. Then an extraordinary piece of play ten minutes later saw Laney run the ball out of the Gunners 22. The first five-eighth was poleaxed by a high-looking tackle, but play was waved on for several minutes, with both sides having useful-looking mini-breaks in the ensuing chaos. After all that, Laney was helped from the park to huge applause, with Phil Godman replacing him at 10.

Five minutes later, the Dragons were penalised for taking down the Gunners' maul. Blair took a quick tap, but found that while most of his body was making good progress northwards, his neck remained stubbornly stationary, gripped as it was by Snow's arms. Neither the offending limbs, nor the rest of their owner for that matter, had made any attempt to retreat 10 yards.

Paterson kicked into the 22 and an extraordinary driving maul, featuring those grizzled honorary forwards Webster and Hugo, drove Hall over for the score. Throughout the game, Mr MacDowell's whistling reached the same dizzy heights as it had done on his previous visit to Murrayfield, the defeat of Cardiff. On this occasion, though, he sensibly played advantage as the Dragons' defence desperately tried to slow the maul's momentum. The crowd had been in increasingly good voice up to then, and low-yield emotional explosions took place when the try was signalled.

The Gunners are traditionally slow starters. But when they come back into a game like this, they generally go on to win. Things were looking good, then, when they started the second period like a train, with "Webbo" Webster and today's centurion, Marcus Di Rollo, to the fore in some useful attacks from the kick off.

The Dragons were pressing at times too, though, with Percy Montgomery's prodigious boot giving them good field position. But it was their inside centre, Sione Tuipolotu, who made the break that gave them the lead. A missed tackle on halfway saw him burst through and send a long, looping, and - let's not beat about the bush - clearly forward pass to Morgan. An offload to Monty, then the pass to Luscombe saw the left wing over for the converted try on 55 minutes.

The Gunners had chances to hit back immediately. First a superb Hugo counter put Godman away, but the ball was lost in the tackle outside the visiting 22. Then an error at the tail of an attacking Edinburgh lineout allowed the Dragons to clear.

The home fans were on their feet just after the hour, when Paterson scythed through the cover off a Gunners scrum on the Dragons' 10 metre line. He jinked his way almost to the line, but was nailed just short with two men free outside him. The Gunners' fitness was beginning to tell in the closing tn minutes or so, with their maul in the ascendant. But the Dragons' pack and the Montgomery boot always seemed to be able to smother the danger and clear.

Another maul infringement allowed Paterson to slot the penalty that took the Gunners to within four points. And they came so close to nicking the win in injury time, with a great Webster break from half way off ball won against the head in the scrummage setting up Callam in open prairie on the left wing. Unfortunately, the Dragons were able to bundle him out in the corner.

Surprisingly, only four minutes of injury time were played, and the Gunners were not able to make the crucial breakthrough. There is a fairly hefty hill to climb if Edinburgh are to progress in the competition this season. But there is not much between the teams in this group, so the Gunners will be hoping that it turns into a dogfight if they are to qualify for the knock-out stages.

SCORERS:

EDINBURGH: Paterson: 1C 2P, Hall 1T

DRAGONS: Luscombe 1T, Wyatt 1T, Sweeney 2C 1P

Edinburgh: Hugo, Paterson, Di Rollo, Joiner, Webster, Laney, Blair, Jacobsen, Hall, Smith, Hines, Kellock, Strokosch, Hogg, S. Cross.
Replacements: Kelly, Brannigan, Pringle, Callam, Lawson, Godman, Dey.

Dragons: Montgomery, Wyatt, Luscombe, Tuipulotu, Morgan, Sweeney, Baber, Snow, Jones, Anthony, Gough, Owen, Ringer, Bryan, Forster.
Replacements: Richards, Black, Thomas, Charteris, Beattie, Warlow, Brew.

Referee: Don't get me started

MB