GUNNERS SUFFER BLACKADDER BLOW
8 January 2004
Edinburgh will be hoping to make ex-Gunner Gordon Ross's homecoming a disappointing one - on the pitch at least - as Leeds come to Meadowbank for the first clash in the clubs' Heineken Cup double header this Friday evening. Though going through a bit of a sticky patch at the moment, the ex-Nail has been a key figure for the Tykes since his arrival in Yorkshire at the beginning of last season.
The big news, though, is the absence of Captain Todd Blackadder from the home squad with a shoulder injury. Edinburgh make four changes from the side that mugged Glasgow at Hughenden in the Inter-City two weeks ago. Lee is back in at full-back, the Paterson-Blair hinge resumes (Brendan Laney moving to 12 and Graeme Burns sitting on the bench), and the return of Simon Cross allows Hogg to take on the Blackadder role at blindside. Andrew Dall and Joel Brannigan come onto the bench, and Ali Warnock drops off. Laney will captain the team. With Ali Dickson and Ramin Mathieson out with injury, plus Marty Leslie's return to the squad now seemingly ruled out, the Gunners' depth in some positions is set to be tested, particularly once the 6 Nations gets underway.
The Tykes' Scottish contingent is not as well-represented in their squad as it might have been, with Duncan Hodge out with a dislocated elbow, and Scotland prop Gavin Kerr unavailable due to a neck injury. Surprisingly, Gordon Ross will start the game on the bench, with utility back Tim Walsh making his first start of the season at 10. Tykes only have one fit scrum-half, Ryan Walker. Former Boroughmuir pupil and England cap Tom Palmer returns to his home of 10 years as Leeds' captain.
While Edinburgh have been steadily earning plaudits from the most unexpected of sources this season, with an 11 win and 5 loss record in all competitions so far, Leeds are flirting with the relegation zone in the Zurich Premiership. The Tykes do, though, have a 1-1 record in the Heineken so far, and to limit Toulouse to a 19-3 win in Stade Ernest Wallon last month was a very respectable showing.
Edinburgh sit at the top of the pool with 9 points from two wins, next come Toulouse with 5, with the Tykes on 4 after their win over the Ospreys. If they are to qualify for the quarter-final stage, it is crucial that the Gunners win their two remaining home games and, ideally, the game in Leeds. Bonus points could then decide who tops the group. But for the moment, the team need to focus solely on winning each game as it comes, with the manner and margin of victory a secondary concern.
The return match takes place at Headingley on Sunday 18 January. More information on travel can be found in the Travel section. For those travelling independently, tickets to sit with the Embra tifosi can be obtained through Edinburgh Rugby on 0131 346 5252 firstname.lastname@example.org
For EDINBURGH, it goes without saying that Paterson and Laney will be crucial, but in the absence of Blackadder, the Hines/Murray boilerhouse will have a key role to play in the pack. Look for a big game from Hogg, perhaps in his role as Blackadder's heir apparent. For LEEDS, Snyman, Christophers, and Italian international Persico will be important to their prospects.
Uncle Todd's absence apart, this is arguably Edinburgh's strongest line-up. As Gordon Ross said when interviewed in "Scotland on Sunday" this weekend, this must be the first time that an English team has come to Scotland as the underdogs in the European Cup. The bookies favour a Gunners victory by 8 points, and the editorial prediction is a 10 point home win, but without a bonus point.
Edinburgh Rugby: Lee; Webster, di Rollo, Laney (Capt), Joiner; Paterson, Blair; Jacobsen, Hall, Smith, Hines, Murray, Hogg, Cross, Taylor. Replacements: Brannigan, di Ciacca, Kellock, Dall Burns, Philip, Southwell.
Leeds Tykes: Cardey; Christophers, Snyman, Davies, Albanese; Walsh, Walker; Shelley, Regan, Powell, Murphy, Palmer (c), Persico, Hyde, Popham Replacements: Cusack, Holt, Morgan, Rigney, Ponton, Ross, Botham
Referee: H Watkins (Wales).
European rankings as at 5 January 2005: Edinburgh: 10th Leeds Tykes: 25th (http://www.eurorugby.com/index.php)
Kick-off 7.30 pm at Meadowbank