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JUST SHORT IN SWANSEA

Ospreys:26 (13) Edinburgh Rugby: 19 (13)



A visit to the Liberty is tough enough when you're at full strength.  As Leinster discovered last week, if you're significantly weakened through World Cup calls and you let the Ospreys get ahead early, it's tougher still.  Yet the Gunners emerged from south Wales tonight kicking themselves that they had not come away with at least a draw - and they could so easily have had the win.  Their play was much more accurate than it had been against Cardiff.  But it was still a handful of unforced errors that did for them and the Ospreys eventually made them pay.  All in all, though, it was a hugely encouraging performance from this young squad.

The Hairsprays started the match the stronger and it was all Swansea in the opening exchanges as the home side built the phases unhurriedly.  But they were not getting much penetration and the Embra defence looked sound.  The Ospreys were not to get off to the flier they enjoyed against Leinster last week.  All the same, it was a surprise when it was Embra who opened the scoring on seven minutes.

Laidlaw took a quick tap penalty around the halfway line and saw a gap behind the enemy defence.  His dink into space looked to be covered by the former Newportgwentdragons full back Fussell.  But the Osprey man's effort at tidying up was as pitiful as the sparse crowd at the Liberty tonight, over-running the bobbling ball to allow Visser to gather and scoot over for the opportunist score, well converted by skipper Laidlaw.

Home scrum half Webb scored a good try on 12 minutes, thanks to woeful defence around the fringes, Biggar adding the extras - 7-7.

Laidlaw regained the lead immediately with a well-struck long penalty after the Ospreys had come off their feet at the restart.  He just missed another pot at goal on 16 minutes, but Edinburgh were looking like they had got up to speed now and were looking dangerous with ball in hand.  Denton was putting in some massive hits in defence, although the massively maned back row's handling let him down several times in attack.

But a huge Osprey shove at an Edinburgh defensive scrummage forced the penalty and Biggar converted to tie the match at the end of the first quarter.  That was the cue for some concerted home pressure over the next ten minutes or so but the Embra defence held out, forcing first a missed Biggar drop goal before openside Tipuric, making a super break, looked to have crossed.  But the Kiwi import somehow contrived to bounce just before the line and knock on, the battered Hunter just having done enough to knock him off balance.  It was close, though, and the Hairsprays were awarded a penalty shortly afterwards, Biggar edging their noses in front 13-10 on the half hour.  The lead was deserved on the run of play.

Yet, despite all the Ospreys' possession and pressure, they were not taking advantage - a poor dropped goal effort on 38 minutes from distance a sign that they were just not making the line breaks.  Statistics can be illuminating in rugby, yet some can be misleading.  One of Frank Hadden's favourite stats, winning lots of ball in the enemy 22, for example, can indeed be a sign that you're getting lots of pressure.  But it can also be a sign that your offence is pretty toothless.  The eternal truths of the game remain valid - you can have as much possession as you like, but if your loosehead prop sports long frizzy blonde hair, he's still going to play like a girl - albeit one who can scrummage a bit.

Laidlaw alertly ran a free kick on the stroke of half time, Edinburgh winning a penalty at the subsequent breakdown.  Captain fantastic stroked over another long kick in injury time to tie the match up at the break.  Game on.  Edinburgh had lost both Webster and Traynor to injury close to the half, but they were looking competitive.  The Hunter-King combination at five-eighth was working well, with the young ten getting his line moving, tackling well and looking sound in his touch kicking.  The set piece was looking under pressure at times, and this morning's narrow escape for the national side against the Romanian pack was a reminder that you need to do the job up front before you can do the fancy stuff with ball in hand.

Edinburgh were fortunate on 41 minutes when Biggar knocked a simple penalty into the upright and the referee missed a King knock on in the rush to clear.  Hunter knocked an ensuing penalty into touch, then a super Lawrie throw at the lineout saw Laidlaw burst clear, setting up a number of Embra phases in the enemy 22.  Eventually, the Ospreys infringed and Laidlaw put the capital side three up with his third penalty on 45 minutes. Edinburgh were penalised at the breakdown after the restart, though, Biggar converting again to tie the scores.  A failure to get enough bodies in to clear the ruck was to blame, but the Gunners' support play was generally much better than it had been against the Blues last week.  Roddy Grant and Dave Denton, in particular, were prominent in the loose and they seemed to be upping the pace a bit in attack early in the second period.

Hunter went off on 52 minutes, Laidlaw slotting in at 10 with Leck coming in to the scrum half berth.  Leck was to save the day soon after, knocking down a dangerous Pass as a super Fussell offload in traffic had seen Swansea surge away on the counter.   And Edinburgh were competing for the ball aggressively at the breakdown, good counter rucking on 57 minutes forcing the Ospreys to hold on in the tackle in attack and allowing Laidlaw to clear.  Swansea came right back and it took some great defensive work from Denton and Cox to foil them after a Bishop break in midfield had opened up a great scoring opportunity, albeit the Ospreys had butchered a big overlap.  Good work by Grant, Leck and Laidlaw at the ensuing defensive scrummage saw the danger cleared.

The Ospreys kept building the phases patiently and Lewis Niven was pinged at the breakdown on 64 minutes, Biggar's penalty putting them three points ahead again.  The move had started after replacement hooked Andy 'Ned' Kelly had overthrown his man at the lineout for the second time in a row.  Edinburgh's lack of accuracy at key times was starting to cost them.  And the Gunners dodged the bullet shortly afterwards, Jonathan Thomas outrunning his support and getting turned over on the Embra 22.

After Ned had missed his man a third straight time (I love the guy to bits, but I'm sorry, that's not acceptable), the visiting scrum disintegrated under pressure and Leck was penalised for holding on in the tackle.  Happily, Biggar missed the straightforward kick and Edinburgh had eight minutes left to nick the match. But to do that, they'd have to get their hands on the ball and it was the Ospreys who were doing most of the attacking.

Yet the Gunners won a penalty - further poor Osprey support forcing the ball carrier to hold on in the tackle - which they kicked to touch.  Referee Wilkinson ignored the tactical injury and Kelly hit his man, only for Ian Evans to be pinged - slightly unfortunately - for allegedly taking Cox out in the air.  Laidlaw nailed the somewhat fortunate penalty and it was all square with five minutes to go and a man advantage. 

With a minute left, Edinburgh had an attacking lineout on the home 22 and they drove the maul deep.   Somehow the Ospreys turned over, cleared and charged upfield after the clearance with time having elapsed.  Eventually Tipuric juggled the ball and fell over the line.  He had clearly touched the ball down cleanly this time, although it looked like he had received a forward pass off his supporting runner, the replacement lock, just before he crossed.  The try was awarded by the Welsh TMO, though, and Biggar converted for the 26-19 win.  Disappointing to lose so late on, but one could not say that the Ospreys did not merit the win - they could easily have kicked the ball into touch at the end, but kept pressing for the winning score and got their reward.  And at least the Gunners returned north with a losing bonus point.

This was a big improvement on the Cardiff effort and things look like they are going to click soon - hopefully for the visit of Connacht next Friday.

MAN OF THE MATCH: GREIG LAIDLAW.  Quite right too.

SCORERS:

Edinburgh: Laidlaw 1C 4P, Visser 1T

Ospreys: Biggar 2C 4P, Tipuric 1T, Webb 1T

TEAMS:

Edinburgh: tbc

Ospreys: tbc

 

Referee: Wilkinson (IRFU).  Had a decent game.  And it's not every day I say that.