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Sale Sharks: 15 (12) Edinburgh: 16 (0)

'This pandemic has made me realise that previously many times I claimed to be "at the end of my tether" I was in fact somewhere around the middle of my tether' - @alexkealy

A tweet that sums up how a lot of us feel at the moment.  You can read that one in different ways, of course, but I like to think of it as illustrating how what we can achieve when we really need to can suprise even ourselves. 

2020 has been an incredibly tough year.  Many have lost loved ones, jobs, precious times with those who are special to them. It will take some years to recover fully.  Tonight's news heralds further tough times to come.  But in this time, many have shone in adversity, whether they be families, businesses or communities.  And we have all responded incredibly quickly to new challenges - who would have imagined that half of the working age population could switch to remote working almost overnight with little fuss? Big changes that have worked better will last beyond the end of the crisis.  Dig in now and reap the rewards on the other side.

In the more prosaic world of professional rugby, the Gunners have struggled since the first lockdown ended.  International calls have not helped, but they have yet to hit their straps.  This is inevitably going to be a development season for the Embramen, with the likes of Shiel, Chamberlain and Blain given the gametime to grow into pro rugby, while van de Walt and van der Merwe will grow having made their international debuts this autumn.  But they need to steady the ship and the club looks to more experienced operators, such as tonight's centurion Chris 'The Sweet Prince' Dean, to step up. 

After their narrow loss to La Rochelle at home last week, Edinburgh needed to dig deep tonight if they were to stay in this season's unique European campaign.  Injuries and a bit of rotation aside, they sent a strong squad to the AJ Bell in an effort to come away with the win. There were a few intriguing match ups as Duhan van der Merwe faced off against brother Akker, while Shiel faced off against Springbok half back Faf de Clerk.  Sale have a massive pack.  But Edinburgh do too. Personally, I would have been quite happy to watch 80 minutes of scrummaging and box kicks.  And, ultimately, it was indeed the scrummage that edged this one in Edinburgh's favour.

"We're going to need our best performance of the season" said Richard 'Cockers' Cockerill prior to kick off.  Against a club they have never played, it was time for the Gunners to start a winning run.

They started powerfully.  Simon 'Ice' Berghan won a scrum penalty on two minutes, but van de Walt's effort from the enemy 10 metre line drifted just wide in the exposed Manchester arena.  Sale were on the attack immediately, but were foiled when Romain Poite pinged the home side for holding Hodgson, making his European debut, in at the ruck in an effort to buy a penalty.  A great call from the great detective.

Duhan came close on his wing after McInally had broken, making excellent ground off the back of a driving maul and cleared a succeeding ruck.  The breakdown was incredibly competitive, both sides were looking to move the ball and - astonishingly given what actually transpired - it felt like this one was going to be a thriller.  On 13 minutes, Sharks took a quick lineout and Solomona crossed for a superb try in the corner off what was adjudged not to have been a forward pass.  One of the du Preezes (Rob)  knocked over a super wide conversion for a 7-0 lead.  The score was well worked, but a disappointing one for a defence to concede.

A further error in Edinburgh's defence on 19 minutes, as Bennett flew up quickly in defence and missed his man to allow Rohan Janse van Rensberg to scoot through the gap and canter over from the 10 metre line for a second try.  The missed conversion stretched the advantage to 12-0 Sharks.  Frustrating for the visitors, who had played fairly well on the whole but lost concentration to cough up the scores. The Sharks were increasingly controlling field position, though, with de Klerk orchestrating from the base. The Gunners really needed to spend time at the other end of the park, as well as finding a spark in attack from somewhere. But a brief foray into the Sale 22 apart, Edinburgh just did not threaten and Sharks were well worth their 12-0 lead at the break.

One thing that was going well for the Embramen was the scrum, with future Lion Rory Sutherland having Cooper-Woolley on toast.  He forced another penalty on 50 minutes, which Kinghorn knocked into the corner.  With penalty advantage, the Gunners' pack pounded the line.  Off a characteristically dynamic Watson carry, Groom whipped ball smartly to Dean, whose quick hands put Bennett over.  van de Walt's conversion narrowed the gap to 12-7 as Schoeman and WP Nel came on to maintain the intensity in the front row.

Different personnel, but the story in the scrummage was the same.  Romain gave Sale a wigging on 56 minutes after yet another home penalty. WP was already working his magic and Kinghorn knocked the ball to the corner to set up another period of Edinburgh pressure. A second three pointer for Jaco brought the Gunners to 12-10 down and the momentum seemed to be shifting their way.  The power of a dominant scrum.

And the power of pressure and field position told on 61 minutes.  A slightly panicky de Klerk unwisely tried to run ball out of his own 22 when it was never on.  He put his pack under huge pressure and they conceded a penalty at a succeeding breakdown, which Jaco nailed for a 12-13 advantage.  Suddenly, it was Sale who were looking heavy legged. Janse van Rensburg then looked like he had sprinted away for an astonishing try after a bewildering series of attacks and knock ons by both sides, with Romain playing good advantages.  The TMO managed to convince the great detective that the scoring offload went forward.  Which it had.

The Gunners drifting offside chasing a kick then gave Sharks a chance to retake the lead from distance.  du Preez (Rob) knocked over a good effort for a 15-13 advantage with just over 10 minutes to run.  But almost immediately, a further du Preez (Jean-Luc) was spotted hitting Watson directly in the head with his shoulder with force; he never changed his angle.  One could hear the TMO itching to tell Romain that this was a clear red, but du Preez was mighty fortunate that he saw only yellow.  Jaco punished the offence, though, with another penalty to retake the lead at 15-16.  Could the Gunners hold their nerve under pressure to close this one out?

First, Jimmy Johnstone's great run gave Jaco the chance to pin Sale in their own 22; then a great breakdown effort by Dave Cherry won a crucial penalty on 76 minutes, setting up an attacking lineout on the home 22 as a rueful de Klerk was replaced.  That was to prove the deciding moment.  The Gunners put in repeated phases around the enemy 10 metre line as the clock ticked down.  The set had a perfunctory air on both sides as the Embramen methodically put in the phases, yet Sharks, normally such a jackaling threat, barely tried to compete.  It took over 20 phases, but the clock went red with the visiting pack in total control. Groom kicked to touch for the win that kept the Gunners in Europe for now.

Edinburgh had been the better team in the second team and had grafted well.  The power of their pack, together with that little touch of experience from Groom, saw them over the line.  Hamish Watson was a deserved Man of the Match in an outing when one felt that the Embramen had taken a big psychological step forward in their season.  This hard fought away win gives them something tangible to build on.