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Edinburgh Rugby: 17 Connacht: 32

13 February 2004

Jackie Joiner is, of course, best known for the appearance of his luxurious city-centre residence in Scotland on Sunday's "At Home" supplement last summer. No doubt his team-mates have sought his wise counsel on whether white is the new black; how to give their bathrooms that stylish, yet contemporary, look; and where to stick that troublesome spare piece of MDF. Yet somehow, Meadowbank's answer to Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen has found time to mature into a quietly effective centre-wing, one of the senior members of the Gunners'squad.

The style guru turned in another solid performance tonight in an evening of great promise for Edinburgh Rugby. While they lost 32-17 to a streetwise Connacht outfit in a highly entertaining game, they played most of the rugby and there were excellent performances from youngsters like Pike, Martyn, Dey, and Southwell. Among Connacht's four tries were an interception and two breakaway scores with the Gunners pressing.

This was a far cry from last week's defeat to Cardiff, with a much improved performance from the pack; so much so that the visitors' much-vaunted driving maul was rarely seen. In recent years, Edinburgh have had a strong back row, and the Dall-Harrison-Martyn combination worked very well; Harrison putting in a great deal of work close in, while on a number of occasions Martyn was to be seen making useful breaks further out. The scrummage was solid, the lineout effective, with Nathan Pike a standout; and there was much enterprise in the home back play.

After a bright start by the young home team, Connacht struck first with a touchdown by Yapp on five minutes after the old maestro, Eric Elwood, had spotted the overlap on the left wing. The Gunners roared back with a try of their own. In what was almost a carbon copy of their score against Cardiff the week before, Di Rollo released Southwell on the home 22. The big full back flipped a deft pass to Sharman on the wing, and the Currie man sped off. A cute chip over the cover should have seen him score, but he was taken out off the ball, and the penalty try was given, Ali Warnock's conversion tying the scores at seven apiece.

The next 20 minutes were all Edinburgh, as the home team put a number of phases together with super handling in the damp conditions. Sharman was almost through on the quarter hour, only for McHugh to block the winger's grubber. The mystery of the recent peroxide shortage in the Galway area can surely be put down to the visiting full-back's recent trip to the barber's; his spectacular blonde locks outshining even the officials' fluorescent yellow outfits. He seemed to have left his kicking trousers at home tonight, though, with a few uncharacteristic sclaffs appearing in his repertoire.

Meanwhile, Martyn, Harrison, Di Rollo and Dey showed up well in the loose as the Gunners pinned the visitors back around their own 22 for extended periods. First Joiner then Sharman came close on 23 minutes as the youngsters turned the screw. But the Connacht defence was well organised, and the sucker punch came just before the half-hour. A missed tackle allowed Elwood away on the half-break; the veteran timed his pass to perfection to put Mostyn away for the try against the run of play.

The great man followed that up with a penalty ten minutes later to give Connacht a 17-7 half-time lead. The Gunners had had most of the play, but had not been able to win quick enough ball to punish the enemy.

Unfortunately for Edinburgh, Connacht claimed a crucial score two minutes after the restart. A floated Southwell pass was intercepted by McHugh, who put McPhilips in for the unconverted try. But Edinburgh came back strongly, and again put the Irishmen under concerted pressure. First Di Rollo, then Burns came close. More thrusts inside the Connacht 22, with Jacobsen to the fore, eventually led to a Warnock penalty for the visiting forwards not rolling away from a ruck.

Sadly for the Gunners, Moore scored for Connacht on the hour after slick work by the visiting backs and poor home tackling, Elwood's conversion giving the visitors a comfortable 29-10 lead. But an absolutely superb Martyn break five minutes later set up waves of Edinburgh attacks. A try was only denied by a professional foul by O'Sullivan, who was carded as a result. The Gunners finally got their reward as strike-runner Jacobsen notched a try, the Prestonpans Panther barrelling over from short range. The score was 29-17, and the Gunners were in the hunt with a quarter hour to play and a man advantage.

But home hopes were finally extinguished with five minutes of normal time left. With the Gunners pressing once again in the Connacht 22, a green hand appeared to nick the ball back in a ruck; but the referee saw a home knock-on; and the danger was cleared. Elwood's subsequent penalty took the score to 32-17, and although Andy Kelly was bundled into touch just at the corner flag, time ran out for Edinburgh.

While a loss is still a loss, there was much to please the Gunners in this performance. They played expansive Gunners Rugby, and with a bit of luck, and slightly quicker ball, could have won the game. The pack did very well up front against one of the more physical eights in the Celtic League, and the team can look forward to their visit to Netherdale next Friday night with some confidence. There's work still to do, but they are beginning to gel.

VIRGIN TRAINS MAN OF THE MATCH: Australian centre Darren Yapp took away the coveted limited edition Virgin Pendolino model train. ALLAN JACOBSEN won the Supporters Club award, just ahead of Matt Dey and Angus Martyn.


Edinburgh: penalty try, Jacobsen 1T, Warnock 2C, 1P
Connacht: Yapp 1T, Mostyn 1T, McPhilips 1T, Moore 1T, Elwood 2P, 3C

Edinburgh Rugby: Southwell; Sharman (Currie), Di Rollo, Dey, Joiner; Warnock, Burns (captain); Jacobsen, Hall, Brannigan, Pike (Boroughmuir), Kellock, Dall, Harrison, Martyn. Subs: Kelly, Smith, Pringle, Fisher, Lawson, Monro, Clapperton.

Connacht: McHugh; Mostyn, Yapp, Moore, McPhillips; Elwood, O'Loughlin; McFarland, Jackman, Clarke, Browne, Farley, Muldoon, Carter, O'Sullivan. Replacements: Uijs, Bracken, McCarthy, Neville, Keane, Hewitt, Robinson.