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GUNNERS GIVE THE GAME AWAY

Edinburgh Rugby: 23 (10) Glasgow: 23 (10)



Time was when the only sign of Santa's presence that young folk would ever detect, beyond their presents on Christmas day, was the traditional Christmas morn post-visit detritus - the empty can of McEwan's Export, a half-eaten mince pie and the remains of a carrot, all of which they had thoughtfully left out for Father Christmas and Rudolph on Christmas Eve. 

These days, children can go online to the NORAD Santa Tracker website, where the joint US-Canada ballistic missile defence agency uses hi-tech satellite technology to detect Santa's departure from the North Pole.  He is then monitored in real time as he spreads joy throughout the world before he enters North American airspace.  At that point, USAF F-22 Raptor and Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornet interceptors are scrambled to escort the kindly bearded gentleman safely on his rounds.

In an uncanny parallel, times have changed a bit in rugby over the years too.  One thing that strikes one about watching old film of top level rugby in the amateur days is how appallingly bad defences often were.  These days, all sorts of exciting technology is used to enable teams to plug gaps and shut down enemy dangermen.  With some notable exceptions, the Inter-City matches in recent years have tended to be dominated by defences and two teams who have a very good idea of what the other side's strengths and weaknesses are into the bargain.

Glasgow's recent upper hand has been the result of superior mental application and a certain reluctance to shrink from the physical confrontation.  One hoped, having seen from afar reports of Embra's excellent win over Cardiff in the Heineken last weekend, that the Gunners might this time prove up to that challenge.  Although there were six tries tonight, three apiece, four of them could be considered quite fortunate.  Two Glasgow scores came from avoidable defensive errors in the home in-goal area following speculative enemy kicks.  Meanwhile, another referee/TMO combo, or even the same official on another day, might not have awarded Tim Visser's try brace.

In short, this was yet another slog-athon in the trenches and Glasgow again emerged the happier of the two sides, having clawed back a ten point deficit going into the final quarter to come away with a draw that, had Embra actually taken advantage of their opportunities, they should not have had.

While Edinburgh were some way ahead in the loose, Glasgow were on top in the tight.  Particularly in the second period, the visitors' stranglehold on scrummage and lineout were to prove vital, both in frustrating the Gunners' attacking opportunities and in clawing their way back into the match.  In the first half, in particular, Duncan Weir's intelligent line kicking was key, giving them decent field position with the wind.  It's not difficult to see why they're doing well in the Magners as they are devilishly difficult to beat.  But it's not very surprising that they are among the league's lowest try scorers either as they were pretty pedestrian with ball in hand.  Far too often Weir, lying deep, was taking slow ball standing still, shoveling it on to an equally static centre.  One has heard good things about young full back Hogg, but he rarely had a chance to shine while the pacy Lemi was crying out for much more ball than he received.

The Gunners were certainly up for the physical confrontation in the first half, the sheer volume of Glasgow injuries a testament to their robust intent.  The ball carrying of Gilchrist, Talei and Denton was a feature, as was the openside brilliance of Ross 'Rossco' Rennie, who comprehensively bested Barclay on the floor.  The Glasgow man really looks like he needs a new challenge if he is to rediscover his undoubted class.  James King had another superb outing and was the standout back on both sides.  But one felt that Edinburgh's halfbacks were not quite sharp enough in their play and they needed to stamp their authority on the match in the way that Weir did.

Rennie got the Gunners off to the perfect start, popping up to take an offload and nip over after Edinburgh had built a number of phases in the Glasgow red zone early on.  Laidlaw's conversion gave the home side a 7-0 lead after five minutes.  Although Sean Cox had spent ages doing restart drills pre-match, the restart ball squirted through his hands and Glasgow were immediately on the attack.  Chris Paterson just beat Lemi to the ball after some enemy huffing and puffing had suddenly exploded into life with a chip to the in-goal area.

A scything Visser run was stopped just short on ten minutes before a blatant McArthur body check on King in front of the referee in midfield earned the Glasgow hooker a card for sheer silliness and Laidlaw a long penalty into the wind.  Weir clawed a penalty back shortly afterwards to leave the score 10-3 Embra at the end of the first quarter.

Glasgow were hanging in there and were rewarded with a short range Kellock try, well converted by Weir just before the half hour.  Edinburgh were still looking the more likely until the half rather petered out following a lengthy break for a serious looking injury to the unfortunate Rory Lamont.

The Gunners started the second period well, three Glasgow penalty offences in three minutes a sign of the pressure they were under.  Laidlaw nailed the third on 44 minutes.  But another Edinburgh error at the restart eventually set up a penalty to Weir off a scrum offence, the young man who has been compared to the great Craig 'Chic' Chalmers taking Glasgow level once again.

Then two quickfire Visser tries (or alleged tries if you hail from the west).  They were almost carbon copies.  On 51 minutes, Edinburgh smashed a Glasgow scrum on halfway, Talei recovered and broke up the blindside, feeding King whose pass put Visser charging up the left wing.  Although tackled at the corner, the TMO adjudged that he had grounded the ball before going into touch.

On 54 minutes, Edinburgh again went blind, this time it was a long pass from Nick de Luca that picked out his left winger.  The big man was half tackled and staggered fully ten metres to flop over the line in the corner, again the TMO adjudging that he'd grounded before going into touch.  I have my doubts about both, but I ain't complaining. 23-13 and really Edinburgh should have been able to close this one out.

With heavy rain now failing to complement the high winds, the going was getting tough.  And the tough were getting going.  Glasgow started to turn the screw in the set piece and conjured a score for replacement Shaw on the hour, who waltzed on to a grubber in-goal with the home defence completely absent, Jackson failing with the simple conversion.

Edinburgh could and should still have killed this game in the final ten minutes.  But a speculative hoof into the Embra in-goal area with the referee playing advantage saw Jones misjudge the ball and Jackson pounced, although the replacement stand off was unable to convert.  He had a chance to nick the win on no-side, but his long penalty effort fell short.

So Glasgow left the paddock looking a lot cheerier than Edinburgh.  Quite right too.    The Gunners remain 9th in the league, nine points off Glasgow in the final playoff spot.  They have an early opporrtunity to make amends with the return fixture taking place at Firhill on New Year's Day.  At least we don't have to muck about with points differentials this year.  It's winner takes all next week.

MAN OF THE MATCH: CHRIS PATERSON.

SCORERS:

Edinburgh: Laidlaw 2P 1C, Visser 2T, Rennie 1T

Glasgow:  Weir 2P 1C, Kellock 1T, Jackson 1T, Shaw 1T

TEAMS:

Edinburgh: Paterson, Jones, De Luca, King, Visser, Laidlaw, M. Blair, Traynor, Ford, Cross, Gilchrist, Cox, Denton, Rennie, Talei. Replacements: Walker, Jacobsen, Gilding, Lozada, Grant, Leck, Scott, Thompson.

Glasgow: Hogg, Lemi, Nathan, Morrison, Lamont, Weir, Cusiter, R Grant, MacArthur, Cusack, Gray, Kellock, Harley, Barclay, Beattie. Replacements: Hall, Welsh, Low, Ryder, Pyrgos, Fusaro, Shaw, Jackson.

Referee: Paterson (SRU)