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GUNNERS JUST SHORT IN DUBLIN

Leinster:22 (10) Edinburgh Rugby:16 (6)



Nevin Spence (1990 - 2012).  A fine young man, whose passing was recognised by an impeccably observed silence at the RDS this beautiful evening.

 

With their Irish internationals returning, Leinster started tonight's match very much on the front foot, probing at the visiting defence.  Edinburgh held firm and looked solid in the scrummage, but a clean break by Healy, of all people, punched a hole in the defence, Sexton nipping over after the ball was won quickly at the breakdown. The conversion made the score 7-0 Leinster on ten minutes.  Was this going to be a long night?

Edinburgh gained good field position and put together the phases, but twice in five minutes they gave away penalties when pressing. They then gave away a penalty in a kickable position on 16 minutes and Sexton made no mistake.  Leinster were slowing down enemy ball well, while Edinburgh were getting pinged for the same thing.  

Then a super Rees break at the end of the first quarter almost saw the Welsh international over, but the Gunners failed to clear the breakdown quickly enough.  A few phases later, Laidlaw launched a bomb with the referee playing advantage.  De Luca just guddled the ball forward in-goal, but Laidlaw knocked over the three pointer.  Good to convert field position into points.  Netani, Cox and McInally were getting over the gainline, but a little more control at the breakdown was needed.

Slowly, the Embra men were starting to gain a bit of a grip of the game, patient phase-building quietened the crowd and finally forced a breakdown penalty for Laidlaw on 31 minutes. They were forcing the home side to make a number of tackles and there seemed a bit of rust about the Dublin men's play at times.  Indeed, the visiting defence looked pretty sound and most of the Leinster danger seemed to come from their front row wide out, a good run from Cronin close to half time sparking alarm bells.

Interestingly, WP 'Eskimo' Nerl came on on 36 minutes for Cross.  It seemed more of a tactical change than due to injury.  Then lovely de Luca-Scott interplay after a Cox burst that Gilchrist carried on saw Edinburgh close on 38 minutes.  They built some phases close in.  But after Jones had done well on the wing, Nel got isolated at the breakdown and Leinster had a chance to clear.  The Gunners had a second bite at the cherry right away but again were penalised - somewhat unluckily - at the breakdown five metres out from the enemy line.  10-6 Leinster at the half and the momentum had definitely shifted to Edinburgh.  They were starting to win some decent ball and probing the home defence wide out.

Beaten for pace chasing a hack ahead, O'Driscoll executed a swallow dive worthy of an Olympic diver on 45 minutes in an unsuccessful effort to con the referee and get a fellow professional into trouble.  I find that sad. But it was perhaps a sign that Leinster were realising that they were in a battle.

Then, as the game entered the key middle quarter of the second half, a lovely mazy run by ex-Connacht winger Fionn Carr made great ground out of defence.  Again, Healy showed up well in open field taking the play on into the Embra 22 and Yapp was carded for a pretty cynical offence at the breakdown close in.  He can have had little complaint and Leinster went for the attacking scrummage. Edinburgh seemed to have held out, then a mystified Cox was carded on 51 minutes.  Quite why the refereee felt this was necessary was a bit of a mystery.  In situations like these, sometimes referees make a rod for their own back.   Leinster again went for the scrummage.  But brilliant Edinburgh defence kept them out and Laidlaw had the drop out from the touch in goal. No points conceded ... yet.

But Leinster did eventually take advantage of the extra two men, O'Driscoll switched play across field in defence, a hole appeared in the cover and the impressive Carr again made good ground to commit the defence and create the try in the corner for replacement Macken. Sexton missed the tough conversion to leave the score 15-6 approaching the last quarter.  Better was to come from an Embra perspective, though, with Leinster being penalised in a kickable position as Yapp readied himself to return to the fray.  Laidlaw knocked over the penalty for a 15-9 deficit on the hour and the double power play now over.

Some lovely interplay by Leinster then saw them exploit a three on two on the left wing for Macken to cross for his second, Sexton kicking a fine conversion seemingly to end the contest with 14 minutes left. And the European champions looked to be upping the pace in an effort to get the try bonus.

Yet Edinburgh were after at least a bonus point of their own, the pack pounding the enemy line looking to narrow the gap to under seven.  Eventually, ace try scorer 'Eskimo' Nel grabbed an offload from 'Merlyn' Rees to cross under the posts for the first of no doubt many touchdowns in his Edinburgh career, Laidlaw goaling to leave the score 22-16 with ten minutes left.  A losing bonus point in their sights, this match was by no means over.  Could there be a repeat of the last minute miracle engineered by Brendan 'Chainsaw' Laney down the road in Donnybrook all those years ago? They were certainly playing the game in the right part of the field with the clock ticking down; by contrast, Leinster were now looking more at survival.

With time run out, Edinburgh were still on the attack on the enemy 22, but eventually Rees was adjudged - wrongly - to have knocked on at the base of a ruck and that was that.  It had been a close squeak, but three try Leinster deserved their victory and the Gunners emerged from what was, on paper, the toughest away fixture of the Rabo season with a losing bonus point in a contest they could quite easily have edged.  This had been a match decided by little things, some within their control, others not, with the double power play perhaps the critical factor.

The Embra men now sit fourth in the table on 11 points, four off leaders Llanelli and with a trip to Rodney Parade next up.  To me, it is this match above all others that is the litmus test.  If Embra come away with a win, that will tell us a great deal about whether they have the mental strength to kick on from last season's successes.

INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT GEORGIA (#5): The deepest known cave in the world is the Voronya Cave in Georgia.

SCORERS:

Leinster: Sexton 2C 1P 1T, Macken 2T

Edinburgh Rugby: Laidlaw 3P 1C, Nel 1T

Referee: Hennessy (WRU)