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GUNNERS MAINTAIN UNBEATEN HEINEKEN HOME RECORD

Edinburgh: 9 (6) Stade Francais Paris: 7 (7)



 

 “They’ll be dancing in the streets of Hawick tonight"

"That one was a bit inebriated - just like one of my golf shots”

"And it’s a try by Hika the hooker from Ngongotaha"

"For those of you with black and white televisions, Scotland are playing in the dark jerseys”

Whatever your first memories of Bill McLaren’s commentaries, the chances are they will be fond ones.  In an era when rugby has changed almost out of all recognition, and continues to do so, Bill’s sheer love of the game, and of its great entertainers, has always been a potent reminder of what the game is really about. 

Yes, it's about the Dan Carters, Serge Blancos and David Campeses doing amazing things way beyond the abilities of mere mortals.  But it's also about the sense of community and camaraderie on and off the pitch; the sheer joy of the game of rugby football wherever and by whomsoever it's played; about the wee boys and girls throwing a ball around behind the touchline, dreaming of scoring a try for Scotland at a packed Murrayfield. 

For many of us, it was his love of the game expressed in his words that awakened our own interest in it.  It was a rare occasion indeed when a match would go by without Bill, like a wise grandfather or much-loved uncle, pointing out to his younger listeners a 'copybook' piece of play that they would do well to emulate. There was delight in his voice when one of his own former pupils, Tony Stanger, scored the winning try in the Grand Slam-deciding Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield in 1990 .  Yet, earlier in that same match, he had been just as delighted by the exquisite Will Carling pass that sent Jeremy Guscott speeding over for England’s try.  There is an increasing tendency to controversy in sports journalism these days.  But one of the features of his work that made Bill McLaren stand out was his great impartiality and scrupulous sense of fair play.

The word 'great' is used far too often nowadays, particularly in this column.  But Bill McLaren belongs along with the likes of John Arlott and Brian Johnston in the pantheon of great sporting commentators in the English language.

 Bill McLaren, who passed away this week aged 86, was, and will always remain, The Voice of Rugby.

 


 

In the early minutes of this final Heineken pool match of the season, one felt that we might be in for a fair bit of the sort of adventure and derring do that would have gained the McLaren seal of approval.  Both teams certainly looked up for a bit of running rugby.  Yet while there were moments of excitement at times during this afternoon's proceedings, in truth the dismal weather was always going to turn it into a war of attrition.  The Edinburgh ball carriers rarely looked to offload throughout.  While this may have been a sensible approach, it did mean that the ball from the breakdown was desperately slow, so the chances of breaking down the Stade defence were slim.

While Embra fans will have been pleased to see Hugo back in town, even if he occupied the unusual position of scrum half, and heartened to see long-time favourite Simon Taylor make a cameo appearance in the second period, more than a few would have been startled to observe among the Stade replacements displayed on the Murrayfield big screen a certain 'Micro' Bergamasco.  A very tiny younger brother of Mauro and Mirco perhaps?  As it turned out, 'micro' rather summed up the level of the visitors' ambition.  They only needed one point to make it to the quarter finals and one felt that their main objective was to avoid losing by more than seven points. The most impressive aspect of their attacking play was the prodigious height that stand-off Mieres achieved on his garryowens.  They did not so much return to earth with snow on them as with chunks of meteorite or mid-sized alien lifeforms. 

The Embra defence was generally pretty comfortable under the high ball all afternoon, as they were more generally.  Indeed, while Stade scored the only try of the match, they needed the field position delivered by an unecessary Embra penalty on halfway to get it.  That was an unusual indiscretion in a home performance that was largely very well disciplined.

It was Edinburgh who were first on the board on ten minutes, Paterson notching a straightforward penalty after the Gunners had probed in the Stade 22.  The kick saw this talented footballer become Edinburgh's highest ever points scorer in the competition, surpassing veteran stand-off Duncan 'Hodgey' Hodge.  With the rain pouring down, Edinburgh were having the better of the first quarter, profiting from Stade's poor lineout.  Yet one felt, as so often in recent matches, that Edinburgh should really have scored more when they had the pressure.

They were made to pay when an unwise pass to the isolated Laidlaw around halfway led to a penalty for holding on.  Stade kicked into the Edinburgh red zone and enjoyed a good five minutes of pressure.  While Edinburgh's defence held out well, eventually the breakthrough came.  Pape barrelled over beneath the posts on 27 minutes, Beauxis converting.

The worrying sight of Ross Rennie leaving the field with a knee injury shortly afterwards was followed by an Embra purple patch.  A super rumbling maul went all of 40 metres, forcing Stade to take it down.  Paterson goaled the penalty on 36 minutes.  The full back nearly made it over the tryline on the stroke of half-time, just knocking on as he was tackled in the corner.  7-6 Stade at the break; just about deserved on the run of play.

But Mossy kicked what were to be the final points of the match five minutes after the restart.  His third penalty gave Edinburgh a lead they were not to surrender. 

On the hour, Cairns was desperately unlucky not to hold an interception on halfway; had he done so, he would undoubtedly have cantered over for a try.  Then a lovely Embra break saw Thompson and the eager Robertson combine well to set up an intense period of pressure in the Stade 22.  Time and again, the Edinburgh pack battered at the Stade defence; time again the Frenchmen - or rather the French side, there being only two French forwards in their starting pack - stood firm.  Yet though it was frustrating that the home side could not engineer the breakthrough, they were playing the game at the right end of the park and the clock was ticking inexorably down.  Indeed, the play did not leave the Stade half during the final quarter.

It was little surprise to hear that Greig Laidlaw had secured the Man of the Match award.  The little scrum half was an authoritative presence throughout and took control in those dying minutes.  While Simon Webster's very welcome return to action as a late replacement provided the odd frisson, it was Laidlaw who kept his pack focused on the job in hand.  They strangled this match to leave Edinburgh with a 3-3 record at the end of another Heineken campaign.  And another big name in European rugby bites the dust at Murrayfield.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Once again, The Little General, GREIG LAIDLAW, had the rugby nous to direct operations as Embra closed the match out.

SCORERS:

Edinburgh: Paterson 3P

Stade Francais: Beauxis  1C, Pape 1T

TEAMS:

Edinburgh: Paterson, Robertson, Cairns, De Luca, Thompson, Godman, Laidlaw, Traynor, Kelly, G. Cross, MacLeod, J. Hamilton, MacDonald, Rennie, R. Grant. 


Stade Francais: Beauxis, Gasnier, Messina, Bousses, Camara, Mieres, Hugo, Roncero, Szarzewski, Gerber, Palmer, Pape, Haskell, M. Bergamasco, Leguizamon.

Ref: Wayne Barnes (RFU).