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GLOUCESTER STOOP TO CONQUER

Edinburgh Rugby:13 (6) Gloucester:19 (13)



There is a corner of a far off field in South West London that is forever blacknred.  The Twickers area is a bit of a hotbed of Scottish-born folk anyway, while London and the South East as a whole is home to 260,000 of the blighters.  Chuck in the many more residents who would be qualified to play for the national team via the parental and grandparental route and you have a lot of people with an affinity for tartan.  A fair number made it to The Stoop this evening to swell the hordes of Edinburgh residents making the trip south.

Scottish rugby followers are used to seeing little rays of hope, the tantalising glimpse of something great that could be possible, only for their hopes to be dashed in merciless fashion.  Would it be same old same old, or would the first Scottish side in a European final at last realise that potential?  With more paying punters at The Stoop than look likely to be at Twickers in the Champions Cup tomorrow, the stage was set for a great night.

Sadly, the Embramen fell agonisingly short in the end, having weathered a Gloucester storm in the first half and come back firing in the middle quarter of the second half. They will look back on chances not taken having cost them the Cup.  It was an agonising defeat and it will hurt.  But the Gunners should take tremendous heart from their performance and look to end this season on a high in the final stages of the Pro12. 

Once again, there was a dominating performance from the pack and the defence looked sound.  But it was in attack where Edinburgh fell short.

It was a match full of intriguing match-ups, particularly the Scottish duo that everyone's been talking about.  But enough about Fraser McKenzie and Stevie McColl, those graduates of Dunfermline's famed McKane Park rugby nursery.  Greeg and SHC were in an intriguing battle to make a few points to Vern Cotter about who should be top dog in the national nine shirt. 

Edinburgh enjoyed some early pressure and forced a penalty Afoa for not releasing in the tackle.  SHC knocked over the straightforward effort on two minutes to put the Gunners 3-0 up early. It did sound like the neutral support in the stadium were favouring the Embramen, hoots of derision greeting early Glouncester handling errors.  But a lovely break by Sharples gave a hint of the attacking threat posed by the Gloucester backs.  Edinburgh crept up offside to give Greeg a penalty chance on eight minutes and the wee rascal made no mistake.  3-3 and an intriguing encounter shaping up in this Challenge Cup final.

Then came a fabulous try for the English side, May beating Strauss in the centre off lineout ball, timed the pass to Twelvetrees perfectly for the centre to cross under the sticks.  Laidlaw's conversion made it 10-3 Gloucester on 11 minutes. 

Edinburgh were under pressure wide out, but also up front as they struggled on their own scrummage on 14 minutes.  This was a time for cool heads and character. Under the cosh in their own 22, Roddy Grant did an outstanding job in defence, turning over ball and winning a penalty that allowed the Gunners to clear.

A brilliant du Preez tap tackle on a flying May - his second of the match on the same player -  who had broken out of defence following a Beard fumble in attack, saved a certain try on 25 minutes.  But Bresler was carded for a subsequent breakdown offence and Gloucester drove a maul over the line.  It looked to have been held up, a crucial call, the TMO confirming.  But that set up a period of Gloucester pressure close in, repeated scrummages against seven men piling on the agony. Somehow they survived without conceding a poin, superb seven man scrummaging forcing Gloucester to concede a penalty under pressure to allow the capital club to clear the danger. A triumph.  Indeed, SHC even managed to pull back a penalty during the power play to narrow the lead to four.

But the Embramen gave away a breakdown penalty after the restart, which Laidlaw notched to take the lead back to 10 points on 37 minutes as Bresler returned to the fray.  Gloucester handled the restart poorly themselves, though, giving Edinburgh an attacking scrummage on the enemy 22 late in the half.  It was normal service resumed, as the Gunner pack smashed Gloucester's to win a penalty.  But the kick went wide and Gloucester were deservedly ahead at the break, 13-6.  Edinburgh needed field position and to control the ball.  They had defended well on the whole, but had allowed the men from the West Country to open the game up, giving May in particular the sort of opportunities he revels in.  As so often, the first score of the second period would be crucial.

Tom Brown came on for Tonks at the half.  Gloucester were making more handling errors, but they were the side looking to move the ball. But Edinburgh were really turning the screw in the scrummage, WP forcing another penalty. That said, the Gunners kicking game was not really working, May and Sharples looking safe under the high ball.  Grant and du Preez were getting through a power of work at the breakdown.  This game was on a knife edge.

Gloucester had enjoyed ten minutes of field position and eventually forced a penalty on 49 minutes.  Laidlaw made no mistake with the simple kick, 16-6 Gloucester with half an hour left.  Burleigh kicked the restart out on the full and all of a sudden, the Gunners were looking vulnerable.  Ford gave away a penalty on the ten metre line, Laidlaw pushed Gloucester 19-6 up on 53 minutes and the match looked like it was slipping away, especially when Burleigh kicked the restart out on the full again.

On 55 minutes, Moriarty was carded for a knee in the back on McKenzie at a disintegrating scrummage.  He was possibly fortunate only to see yellow and the Gunners kicked to the 22.  Burleigh took ball off the back of maul ball and got to five metres out, then the pack pummelled the line and won a penalty for a ruck offence.  Burleigh kicked to touch.  The maul went forward, Gloucester joined from the side and took the maul down, the ball going forward to give the Cherry and Whites a defensive scrummage.  A golden opportunity gone abegging.  McInally and Watson came on to give the Edinburgh back row a different blend.

On 63 minutes, McInally was taken high and late by Meakes as Edinburgh attacked round the corner.  It had to be a red card and the TMO confirmed.  A disgraceful tackle and could have caused a serious injury.  The Embra pack smashed into the enemy line and Ross Ford powered over next to the posts off quick ruck ball.  SHC's conversion made it 19-13 Gloucester with 14 minutes left.  A real barnstorming finish coming up with the Embramen suddenly having the momentum..

The Gunners' front row again forced the penalty, Gloucester's fifth conceded at the scrummage.  Edinburgh were playing the match in the right place - in and around Gloucester's red zone. Burleigh was starting to be more influential in attack after a rocky period. Edinburgh were really stretching the enemy defence, but gave away a penalty in attack to allow Gloucester to clear with seven minutes left.  You had to hand it to the English side, who were really putting their bodies on the line under pressure.

Gloucester enjoyed three minutes and more picking and going, running down the clock well, until they eventually forced the Edinburgh penalty after 20 phases.  Laidlaw missed the penalty on the stroke of no-side, but Gloucester ran out 19-13 victors.  And, frankly, they were the better side and fully deserved it.