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GRIM REAPER CUTS CONNACHT DOWN

Connacht: 16 (10)Gunners : 22 (3)



Ireland has been in a frenzy this week, as RTE's 'Celebrity Jigs & Reels' reached a climax. Donegal superstar Dana fell at the final hurdle - I think - due in large measure to a last minute injury sustained by her gallant partner.

In a very real sense, Connacht supporters must be feeing the same way this evening, after their team came out of the blocks like league champions, only to be cut down by a try with ten minutes remaining by Marcus 'The Grim Reaper' Di Rollo. In an immensely entertaining, and hugely physical game, the Gunners deserved the win. Their fitness and superior experience told in the final quarter, while Connacht's discipline rather deserted them.

But things were looking pretty good for the men from the West of Ireland after ten minutes, when a McHugh penalty in the first minute was followed by an alertly taken Tierney try. Playing with the settign sun, but against a strong wind, Connacht persisted in running the ball from their own 22 at every opportunity, with their back row and big centre Williams making good ground. Blinded by the sun reflected off Mark McHugh's peroxide hairdo, the Gunners could not get their own running game going.

Slowly, though, the visitors began to come into the game. After home hooker Fogerty punched Lawson in the head in front of referee Fear on 20 minutes, Edinburgh set up camp in the home 22. After putting a few good phases together, Taylor was stopped just short, then the supporting drive was held up over the line. This pattern was to be repeated for the rest of the half, with the Gunners pressing, but Connacht's close defence performing well.

The case for the defence was helped somewhat by a string of fairly professional penalties, though, and when the home team went to the well once too often, Paterson kicked the penalty on 39 minutes. The half ended with Matt Mustchin seemingly put over by Jorgensen, off a great Hugo break. But the referee had seen a forward pass. There was a feeling that the momentum was beginning to swing Edinburgh's way, although they might yet rue their failure to convert pressure into points.

That worry increased as McHugh knocked over a fine long range penalty from half way after good Edinburgh pressure from the second half kick off. 13-3. But the Gunners surged back, sparked by a Mustchin breenge. Then Fogarty was rightly carded for pulling an attacking Edinburgh maul down when Connacht were under intense pressure.

And Edinburgh made the most of the power play, with more forward drives in the home 22 seeing the referee playing advantage for another cynical home offence at an attacking ruck. Eventually young tighthead Ali Dickinson powered over for a fine try in the corner - 13-8. All three of the Gunners front row put in a power of work in the loose tonight, with Allan Jacobsen, in particular, taking the ball up with characteristic aggression.

Another McHugh penalty two minutes later off a needless Gunners infringement stretched the home lead once again. But then Mike Blair came on with half an hour to play, and immediately the Gunners' attack looked more menacing. Just after the hour, the Gunners were once again pressing as their mauling game started to make ground against a tiring Connacht defence. With the pack heading serenely 20 yards to the Connacht line, once again, a cynical professional offence took the maul down. Referee Fear had had enough, and immediately headed for the posts to award the penalty try, converted by Paterson. 16-15 Connacht. Game on.

A fabulous try-saving tackle from Hugo kept the momentum with Edinburgh, and there was a real feeling that the Gunners were going for the kill. More fabulous phases, with Mustchin and Strokosch key men, saw Blair nearly nip over before Marcus glided over and round behind the posts for a well-worked try. Paterson's conversion gave the Gunners a 22-16 lead.

And though Connacht threw everything at the Edinburgh side in the following 15 minutes, they could not find a way through Edinburgh's resolute defence. Mike Blair booted a penalty straight into touch, the referee blew for no-side, and both the players and the adventurously attired traveling support went ballistic.

So an encouraging win, built first on taking on and beating a physical pack up front, then spreading the ball as the enemy tired. Similar character will be required if Edinburgh are to prevail over Newport.

ED'S MAN OF THE MATCH: A difficult choice in a gutsy team performance. Mustchin, Paterson, Jacobsen, Hugo, and Pringle all stood out. But MIKE BLAIR's introduction gave Edinburgh the attacking urgency that won them the game. 

Scorers:

CONNACHT: McHugh 3P, 1C, Tierney 1T

GUNNERS: Paterson 1P 2C Di Rollo 1T, Dickinson 1T, Penalty Try

Teams

GUNNERS: Hugo; Paterson (c), Di Rollo, Jorgensen, Leonelli: Godman, Lawson; Jacobsen, Kelly, Dickinson, Duley, Kellock, Mustchin, Strokosch, Taylor. Replacements: Traynor, Hewett, Pringle, macDonald, Blair, Monro, Pyke.

CONNACHT: Slemen, Mostyn, Hearty, Williams, Yapp, McHugh, Tierney, Mcfarland, Fogarty, Knoop, Gannon, Farley (c), Muldoon, Lacey, Rigney.