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GUNNERS MUST RETURN TO WINNING WAYS

Edinburgh Rugby v Neath-Swansea Ospreys



11 March 2004

With Glasgow and the Borders both enjoying excellent wins at the weekend, while young Edinburgh went down to defeat in Llanelli, the gap between the Gunners and their fellow Scots in the Celtic League is closing a little, now standing at 12 points. With Glasgow and the Borders meeting each other on Friday night, if the Gunners were to lose against the Ospreys at Meadowbank, the gap would narrow to 7 or 8 points. The number 1 Heineken seeding for next season would still be Edinburgh's to lose, but things would be getting rather more interesting than one would like.

The international players will be away for only one more game after this Friday - the difficult away trip to Belfast. So the Gunners should be back up to full strength, injuries permitting, for the home games against the Dragons (a warm-up for the Toulouse game), Glasgow, and the Celtic Warriors, and the away trips to Munster and the Blues. If they can win all four home games - particularly if Glasgow beat the Borders - then next year should again see Heineken rugby being played at London Road's Theatre of Dreams.

It is important, therefore, that the youngsters continue the club's winning record against the Ospreys, another club to have provided a disproportionately large share of their national team. With Matt Williams again releasing some of the international Gunners who did not see a great deal of action in Rome, the team has a slightly more familiar look this week. Lee, Blair, and skipper Nathan Hines are back, as is Ali Strokosch from the Under 21s. Tom McGee makes his first start at loosehead, the front row completed by Dougie Hall at hooker and Ramin Mathieson at tighthead. Ali Dickson and Guy Perrett are on the bench.

Gunners fans will be disappointed - though perhaps secretly relieved - that the proud owners of the most devastating perms in world rugby, athletic props Duncan and Adam Jones, will not be strutting their stuff on the wings at Meadowbank. But the Ospreys, captained by experienced hooker Barry Williams, will present a threat in the backs, with Storey, Tiueti, and Seveali'I being powerful runners. They are not the most secure under the high ball, though, so a wet evening could see some fun. That said, Neath-Swansea play spectacular running rugby when firing on all cylinders, so a repeat of the excitement of the recent Leinster game at Murrayfield - hopefully with a home victory - could well be on the cards.

KEY PLAYERS

For EDINBURGH, Nathan Hines will add steel to the pack, Mike Blair and Derrick Lee pace in the backs. For the OSPREYS, as well as the versatile AN Other filling two spots in their 22, captain Barry Williams will be key in a pack that will be crucial to their chances of success.

ED'S VERDICT

With the return once more of some of the capital club's internationals, the editorial prediction is an entertaining home win.

TEAMS

Edinburgh Rugby: Lee, Hugo, Di Rollo, Dey, Joiner, Monro (Heriot's), Blair, McGee, Hall, Mathieson, Hines (Captain), Kellock, Strokosch, Dall, Cross. Subs: Di Ciacca, John Cox, Perrett, Harrison (Heriot's), Lawson, Dickson, Clapperton (Boroughmuir).

Neath-Swansea Ospreys: Durston; Terblanche, Storey, Tiueti, Seveali'I; A.N.Other, A Williams; Evans, B Williams (Captain), Millward, Newman, Tait, Bater, Tandy, Lloyd. Replacements: Wells, Howells, Bonner-Evans, Bateman, Morris, Horgan, A.N.Other

Eurorugby.com rankings: Edinburgh 18 (down 4 - but still 2 places ahead of Leicester Tigers, for example)) Neathswanseaospreys 31 (up 1)

Kick off: Friday 12 March, 7.30 pm, Theatre of Dreams, London Road