GUNNERS READY TO DISARM WARRIORS
28 April 2004
The best news of recent weeks for Edinburgh Rugby came on Monday, with the Celtic League's organisers deciding to retain the existing 22 game format for the next two seasons, but introducing a break in the competition during the Six Nations. The Celtic Cup is also to be changed to make it a knock-out tournament featuring the top eight finishers in the League. So there will be two glittering Celtic prizes up for grabs, and with the top Gunners available for nearly all the games - national squad commitments permitting - Edinburgh should be in contention for both next term. With a little continuity in format, Keith Grainger should now be well-placed to secure that elusive big name sponsor for the League.
In the meantime, there is the small matter of the Gunners' league position this year to be dealt with.
With recent rumours that Ander Monro may be off to France to play for Bayonne, but Newcastle's Phil Godman may be coming north to be reunited with his former coach, Frank Hadden, Ali Warnock will be looking to put in a few more impressive performances at 10 as the League comes to a close. Encouragingly, Edinburgh are mucking their opponents about by only naming a squad at this stage. Ben Fisher, Nathan Pike, and Conan Sharman are included, but Simon Cross appears not to have recovered from the injury sustained in Cork. Mike Blair is also left out, and Dougie Hall is still injured. Other key men still out are Paterson, Laney, Hines, Murray, and Taylor. So a substantially weakened team, who will have their work cut out subduing the Warriors.
The Warriors have, like the other Welsh regions, welcomed the decision to keep the League's home-and-away format. Professionalism has seen many sacrifices made in the Celtic countries, and the Welsh decision to go to regional rugby this season has been painful. It would have been a big blow to their embryonic structure had the decision gone the other way.
But the current worry in Wales is now about overtures that big French clubs, such as Toulouse, are allegedly making to Welsh internationals like Shane Williams, Stephen Jones and, in the Warriors' case, Lion Gareth Thomas. For the moment, though, Thomas remains in the Warriors' side, captaining Friday's team from outside centre. The visitors will be at full strength, following Richard Parks' return from suspension.
Before the main event, the Glasgow and Edinburgh Under 20s will unite in a heart-warming gesture of inter-city camaraderie to take on the Scottish Exiles, kick off 5.00 pm at Meadowbank. Risk disciplinary action by sneaking out of work early to cheer the lads on.
For EDINBURGH, Blackadder and Hogg. The WARRIORS boast a talented back division, with Gareth Thomas and Sonny Parker starting this Friday's game in the centre, despite the former's controversial Toulouse link.
The Warriors look pretty safe as one of the four teams that will make up Wales' Heineken qualifiers for next season; Edinburgh are also assured of a Heineken slot. Given that Llanelli, the Dragons, and Ulster are fighting it out for the title, there is only pride, and league position, to play for at Meadowbank. The away game after the World Cup saw a superb Gunners victory, and the Editorial prediction is a narrow home win this time.
Edinburgh Rugby: Squad: Backs: Burns Dickson Di Rollo Joiner Lawson Lee Philip Sharman Hugo Warnock Webster. Forwards: Blackadder Brannigan Di Ciacca Dall Fisher Hogg Jacobsen Kellock Kelly Perrett Pike Smith Strokosch
Celtic Warriors: Morgan; James, Thomas (capt), Parker, Wyatt; Sweeney, Cooper; G Jenkins, Davies, Horsman, D Jones, Sidoli, Molitika, Bryan, Harris. Replacements: Rees, M Jones, B Cockbain, R Jones, Martens, N Jenkins, Lewis.
European rankings as at 25 April 2004: Edinburgh: 29 (down 3) Celtic Warriors 13 (up 1) (http://www.eurorugby.com/index.php)
Referee: Who cares? They're all the same.
Kick-off: 7.30 pm Theatre of Dreams, London Road