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GUNNERS DEFINITELY NOT ON EASY STREET

Ediburgh: 31 (24) Benetton Rugby: 30 (15)



Kieran Crowley?  Aleister Crowley, more like.  Benetton's kiwi coach has certainly worked some powerful magic since his arrival in Italy, turning Benetton into a force to be reckoned with.  They are strong up front, silky smooth out wide and, but for their failings with the boot, might well have come away with an away win over Edinburgh last night.

As it was, they outscored the Embramen five tries to four and, in hat trick hero Luca Sperandio, boasted the outstanding player on the park.  They will be kicking themselves that they didn't come away with five points, rather than a bonus brace, from this encounter.  

Their attitude also impressed.  When they fell behind, their heads did not go down.  Instead, they hit right back, playing with ambition and scoring some cracking tries.

Ultimately, for Edinburgh this was mission accomplished.  They needed to get the show back on the road with a second home win.  Check. They really had to secure a bonus point, playing with a bit of verve themselves.  Check.  They needed to show the mental fortitude to close out a win under pressure.  Check - just about.

But it was close.   Too close. 

In attack, the same forward power was evident, while there was more incision about the backs, Matt Scott impressing in particular.  But the Gunners' defence struggled to cope at times with the Italians' offloading game, most of the visitors' tries coming off flowing moves where the ball was kept alive and well away from Hamish Watson's clutches.

After both sides traded early penalties, the Gunners were first over the line when Duan van der Merwe almost powered over, then the ball was shipped in the direction of an enormous overlap, only for Scott to step back inside and power under the posts. The Beast From The East had his chance soon after, though, great sleight of hand from 'Denis' Hickey putting the big man through coming off his wing.  17-3 up at the end of the first quarter.

Unfortunately, the Embramen were clearly already thinking that this was going to be easy.

Another couple of tries followed soon after.  Sperandio notched his first, then the quietly impressive Chris Dean put The King Blairhorn racing for the line. The scoring in a breathless first half was completed when veteran Marco Fuser smashed over from short range to leave the score at the break 24-15 Edinburgh. A handy lead, but Benetton were by no means out of this one.

The freewheeling pattern continued in the second half, with 'Deadly' Dougie Fife crossing after great vision from The King and a well executed long pass put the winger over in the corner.  It was a great move off first phase, ' Hank' Pyrgos taking scrum ball left, then switching the attack right to bamboozle the visiting defence and open up the chance.

Back came Benetton, in the estimable shape of Sperandio, who scored two tries in quick succession to secure his hat-trick.  The second was a real corker, the winger's strength and skill saw him dotting the ball down in the corner while in mid air.  The TMO was called in to confirm what looked a good try from the off on a night when the great Nigel Owens seemed to be hampered somewhat by inexperienced touch judges seeing foul play where none was there.  While it's always sensible to check, the frequent breaks disrupted the rhythm of the match, particularly in the final quarter.

Things certainly got interesting when Grant Gilchrist was carded with 10 minutes to run for taking down a Benetton maul that was rumbling towards the Embra line. Barbini duly scored the Italians' fifth try shortly after that. Their tails were up and the momentum was with them. McKinley's missed conversion was to prove crucial, however, as Edinburgh noses remained in front at 31-30.

The Gunners then managed to control ball and field position effectively as time ran out to come away with a hard fought victory.  This could have been another one that got away from them this season. There will have been relief among the coaching staff when Hickey cleared to touch with time expired to secure a narrow squeak in a tremendously entertaining match.