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HARDIE DELIVERS NARROW IRISH WIN

Edinburgh Rugby: 18 (13) London Irish: 15 (8)



At this time of year, parents of small children watch their offspring performing onstage in the school nativity with a mixture of pride and trepidation. Will they get over their stage fright? Will they remember their lines? Will they smack that other kid over the head with a polystyrene crook?  Parenthood is a multi-year process of gradually letting go, giving the wee tykes the space to make mistakes, take responsibility, celebrate their successes.  They learn when they soar and when they fall.  

It can be difficult to give them the space they need.  In  the short term, it's often easier not to.  You can do it better yourself.  But they will never learn that way.  At the end of it all, they generally turn out pretty well.

Building a strong squad in any sport has some similarities.  A young player is never going to gain experience if they don't get on the park.  They need to be given the chances to develop.  The risk in always relying on the first choices is that the dirt trackers don't progress.  While it is a bit of a caricature, that's what we're seeing in this Edinburgh squad at the current stage in its development.

Injuries have been cruel to the pack of late, with Alex Toolis the last lock in the squad standing by no-side last night.  He is a young man who, like his brother, has been thrust into a position of responsibility due to injuries and has absolutely thrived. But I found the first fixture in this double header with the Reading-based side hugely disappointing.  Prior to kick-off, I felt that this was a squad that should have had the measure of opposition that still languishes winless at the bottom of the English league. I still believe that. That they were, by contrast, hammered in coughing up a five point win was hugely disappointing and driven to a large extent by the limited rotation we have seen in the squad. The sharpness, the understanding, the battle hardness just was not there and does not bode well for the remainder of the season.  It's great to have the form front row in European rugby.  But if they are running on empty due to a lack of rest - and we are barely half way through the season - the Gunners are going to fade badly when the contest for a top six finish hots up in the home straight.  It's a shame when the likes of Rory Sutherland have shown that they can do a job, given the chance, as he did last night.

The Embramen made a dramatic 10 changes to the starting XV for the rematch at BT Murrayfield and squeaked a two try, three point victory as a result.  Despite having won three to two by Irish in the pool, they are level on points due to the Gunners' failure to pick up any bonus points so far.  They have a tough away fixture in the next round against Grenoble and will need a bonus point win over visiting Agen in the finale at home if they are to stand a chance of qualifying.  While top six in the Pro 12 is this season's key objective, another run in Europe would be quite nice.  It's still all to play for, but one feels that the capital club have missed the opportunity to take a grip of this pool. 

The Gunners still do not look like a side that is going to notch many try bonuses.  The piano shifters up front pack plenty of punch - Hardie set up Tom 'Schooldays' Brown for his first half touchdown and then won the match with a second half try of his own.  But the piano players in the backs are not producing many tunes.  That should not matter against the weakest sides.  But when they come across a side like Ulster a few weeks ago, whose pack held their own and were markedly superior in the backs, Edinburgh have no answer.

That said, this was a match that could easily have been lost; indeed, Irish probably should have won late on.  That it wasn't was testament to Edinburgh's grit and determination to prevail in a farly thrill-free contest.

The visitors were on the board early, an unconverted try from hooker Ellis after slipped tackles in the home defence seeing them up 5-0 on eight minutes.  Shortly afterwards, Hardie broke off a maul and fed Brown to put the winger over for the try, well converted by SHC on 17 minutes.  A penalty from the mercurial half back two minutes later saw the Embramen a handy 10-5 up at the end of the first quarter.

After Ellis was held up rumbling over the line, an exchange of penalties between Geraghty and SHC saw the score at the break 13-8 Embra in an error-strewn encounter.

The visitors started to exert consistent pressure following the resumption and it was little surprise when Smallbone scored on the hour, Geraghty's conversion giving them a 15-13 lead.  But credit to the Embramen, who fought their way back into a winning position.  Firstly, SHC missed a penalty, then Hoyland came close after SHC and Brown had combined well, before they rumbled a maul goalwards for Hardie to cross for the try that regained the lead with eight minutes left on the clock. And while the Reading-based outfit came close, a crucial turnover allowed the Gunners to run the clock down, SHC booting the ball into touch in injury time to secure the win.

Next week, we are into the festive 1872 double header, kicking off at BT Murrayfield on Sunday 27th.  As last year, it will be an intriguing battle of Embra brawn against Glaswegian guile.  If Glasgow can hold out up front, they will surely prevail comfortably.  But if their forwards are blown away, the Gunners should win in a slugfest.  While most neutrals would prefer the former, Edinburgh need to win at least once to maintain their top six hopes.