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LOOSE GUNNERS LOSE LOOSENER

Newcastle Falcons: 21 (10) v Edinburgh Rugby: 3 (3)



Hard to believe it's been a whole 12 weeks since Edinburgh Rugby last graced the pitch in that emotional farewell to Mossy against Benetton Treviso.  We've managed to pack a fair bit in since then, though, not least the emotional high of Team GB's performance at the London Olympics.  And the sight of Eric Idle singing 'Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life' at the closing ceremony in front of a worldwide audience of 1.5 billion people while surrounded by herds of rollerblading nuns and Roman legionnaires doing the can-can.  If that isn't elite performance, I don't know what is.

But normal service has - just about - been resumed and we're into another rugby season, with prospects for the Gunners looking cheerier than they have for, well, for ever.

One longstanding fear among the Embra tifosi has been that, when crunch matches turn into forward-dominated arm wrestling contests, the Gunners' pack has tended to come off second best.  They can play the air war with the best of them, but when it comes to getting down and dirty in the trenches they've struggled.  Looking at this summer's signings, together with the continued development of the quality operators who shone during last year's Heineken, ain't no-one gonna kick sand in these guys' faces no how.

So I am sure I was not the only Embra Ultra who shed tears of joy when Dimitri 'Dima' Basilaia managed to get himself carded in Newcastle tonight.  And after only quarter of an hour too - top man!  The big Georgian put himself about a bit tonight and looks like an astute signing. 

Generally, when Edinburgh look good in pre-season, that's a sign of impending extreme catastrophe once the serious business starts in September.  As for any other club, the priority for the coaching staff at Festival time is looking at new combinations, reacquainting their charges with a rugby ball and the players themselves remembering that contact hurts a lot if you're not prepared for it.  Actually winning does not feature high on the wish list.  Or at least that's what I kept telling myself for much of proceedings as the visitors struggled to execute in this opening hit-out. 

After an early exchange of penalties, Edinburgh's experimental XV, shorn of the squad's resting internationals, went a try down shortly after the power play began.  They had their moments during the first period, but could not turn territory into points when they had the chances.  Although Newcastle had enjoyed more field position, the Embra men had looked sound enough in defence and competitive at the breakdown.

Things were still pretty loose after the break, although the Gunners secured a bit more possession.  Gregor Hunter took the field midway through after starting 10 Harry Leonard came off injured.  Shortly afterwards, the usual wholesale changes began, with new boys 'Yves' Parker, 'Eskimo' Nel, 'Alfred' McAlpine and 'Merlyn' Rees joining the fray in the red and black and, indeed, the BlacknRed (I'm a bit rusty myself) for the first time.

Although Rees looked sharp with a super break, it was Newcastle who were next on the board, knocking over a penalty for a 13-3 lead going into the home straight.  Gopperth kicked another one shortly afterwards to leave the Gunners well adrift. An unconverted try on the stroke of no-side left the final score 21-3.

In the end, the home side, with two hefty pre-season wins over Leeds and Doncaster already under their belt, looked the sharper in comparison to Edinburgh.  There's always a balance to be struck between having enough pre-season game time to be sharp enough to hit the ground running at the start of the season, while not getting anyone hurt in what are, after all, meaningless games.  Newcastle will play four this year, Edinburgh two.  Will they be a bit overcooked while we're a bit undercooked?  Next Friday's home pre-season match against Northampton Saints should give us a better idea.

INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT GEORGIA (#1):  This season's regular feature will educate Dima fans about his homeland in the Caucuses.  Did you know that Georgia has a long established wine-making tradition, dating back 7,000 years?  They were at it way before the French.  The Georgian climate is ideal for viticulture and their medium-sweet wines are a particular strength.