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LIONS TAMED

Edinburgh: 15 (10) Leinster: 13 (6)



Sitting in the vicinity of the Leinster coaches tonight, high in Murrayfield's west stand, not far from The Matt Williams Memorial Box, was an education in many ways.  Firstly, the Leinster swear box will not be short of a euro or two after the visitors' performance.  Secondly, and slightly less flippantly, it is clear that Embra have the Indian sign over Leinster.  And they know it.  That is perhaps little surprise, given that the Irish province have only ever won once in Edinburgh.

A bonus point win would have given the champions-elect the title.  When it does come, they will deserve it, as they have been the most consistent side in the league this season.  But a gloriously gutsy performance from the Gunners at blustery Murrayfield meant that Leinster will need to wait a bit longer to crack open the champagne.

The home defence was outstanding throughout, with Godman's rush defence putting such pressure on the Sexton-Contepomi pairing at five-eighth that Leinster could rarely launch their dangerous back division, particularly in the first period.  The little playmaker, resplendent in his retouched highlights, had a great game with ball in hand too.  Although it was a night when defences were on top, the speed and accuracy of his passing frequently gave de Luca and Cairns the space to make inroads in the enemy defence.

Although the home scrummage was under intense pressure in the first period, in all other aspects of the game, the pack performed well.  Matt Mustchin had a massive game in tight and loose, while the back row combination had an edge over their opposite numbers.

Although I have to confess that I thought Edinburgh would put up a decent fight before succumbing to the Irish firepower late in the game, they were clearly up for it as they ran on to the park before kick off.  Indeed, so infectious was their resolve that the Dunbar minis, who had accompanied the team on to the field, almost had to be hauled off it.  Clearly the young folk felt that they, too, could give that O'Driscoll boy a bit of a hiding.

But Leinster started the game on the front foot.  With their pack waxing strong and keeping the ball tight, they camped in the home 22 for five minutes until Contepomi converted an easy penalty.  They came close again on nine minutes after an Edinburgh attack broke down.  Hugo did well to clear a fly hack to touch at the Edinburgh 22.  The Edinburgh scrummage was under huge pressure and was not coping particularly well.

But it was Edinburgh who scored the game's first try, very much against the run of play.  Leinster's passing in midfield was to prove pretty ropey all night.  The first howler on half way saw the ball go loose.  An Embra boot hacked it on to the enemy 22.  The ball was shipped quickly right for the returning Ford to barrel over in the corner.  Godman's excellent conversion gave Edinburgh a lead that they were not to surrender. 

Again, though, Leinster had Embra under pressure and Contepomi knocked over a second easy penalty on 24 minutes after the home side were harshly penalised for winning ball that seemed to be well clear of a ruck.  Three minutes later, though, a Hogg line break saw Edinburgh surge deep into Leinster territory.  The referee played three advantages as the Gunners went through the phases before pinging Leinster for not rolling away in the tackle.  Godman's boot gave Edinburgh a 10-6 lead.

As the half came to an end, Hogg was penalised for the first time in the game - at a ruck on the halfway line.  Referee Owen carded him.  Short-handed Edinburgh finished the half on the attack.  But an identical offence to Hogg's in almost the same place snuffed out the move, yet did not seem to warrant a card. Although they may have been disappointed with some aspects of their game, particularly the scrummage, Edinburgh will have been pleased to be ahead at the break.  Yet one felt that the amount of tackling they had been doing would surely take its toll later on.

Playing with a slight wind advantage in the second period, Embra saw out the remainder of the power play with little difficulty.  The half-time introduction of Geoff Cross, The Planet's Poshest Prop, appeared to add a little more solidity to the scrummage.  And Edinburgh began to have a little more territory and possession.

Neither side was creating much.  If anything, Leinster's game plan became even tighter as the game wore on, concentrating overmuch on pick and drives round the fringes.  They won desperately slow phase ball - despite the introduction of the great Keith Gleeson at openside on 55 minutes.  And even when the ball did move wider, a misdirected pass generally meant that it rarely made it to winger Kearney, who looked the visitors' most dangerous back.

After Godman had missed a difficult penalty chance, Edinburgh extended their lead on 66 minutes.  They probed from wing to wing before Alan MacDonald exploded through a gap in the cover and headed goalwards.  His offload found the supporting Dave "DC" Callam, who surged over for a fine try in the corner.  Godman was unable to convert, but Edinburgh had a handy 15-6 lead with 12 minutes to go. 

But an Edinburgh error at a lineout on their own 22 gave Leinster good field position.  After some slowish phases, Fitzgerald eventually made it over the line.  Contepomi converted, to leave Edinburgh a mere two points ahead with ten minutes left.  All to play for.

Once again, from the restart, Edinburgh erred at an attacking lineout, allowing Leinster to clear to the Edinburgh 22.  But a visiting error gave the Gunners a scrummage and a chance to clear.  The home side were competing like tigers at the breakdown and looked like they would hold out.

In the 79th minute, Jackman's throw in to a Leinster lineout on half way was clearly squint, but ignored by referee Owen.  Leinster then worked the ball methodically to the Edinburgh 22 with the game deep into injury time.  But the ball popped out to the left side of a ruck and Edinburgh pounced to secure possession, well placed to clear to touch.

Unbelievably, the Welsh whistler, who had been on the other side of the breakdown, decided that Edinburgh had transgressed and awarded a penalty to Leinster.  While one normally does not condone what the great Bill McLaren used to call "ill mannered booing", the intense chorus of disapproval accompanying Contepomi's preparations to kick was entirely justified.  It was a ludicrous decision and looked like it was going to cost Edinburgh the match.

Justice was done, however, when the Argentine's kick bounced back off the left upright.  The alert Cairns pouched it and touched down for a great victory, rapturously acclaimed by the home support. 


MAN OF THE MATCH: Massive performance from MATT MUSTCHIN for the Magners award; ALLY HOGG took the match sponsors' prize. 

SCORERS:

Edinburgh: Godman 1P 1C, Callam 1T, Ford 1T

Leinster: Contepomi: 2P 1C, Fitzgerald 1T

Edinburgh: Hugo, Webster, Cairns, De Luca, Houston, Godman, Laidlaw, Allori, Ford, Kerr, Mustchin, Gissing, Hogg, MacDonald, Callam.

Leinster: Dempsey, Fitzgerald, O'Driscoll, Contepomi, Kearney, Sexton, Whitaker, le Roux, Jackman, Wright, Cullen, Hogan, Keogh, Jennings, Heaslip. 

Att: 3,138

Ref: Owens (WRU)