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Edinburgh Rugby: 16 (3) Leinster: 9 (3)

There's a bit of optimism about the place at the moment.  The national side played well and with the right spirit during the Six Nations, despite emerging winless, and are shaping up nicely for the World Cup.  Whatever happens against France tomorrow, some quality operators have been left out of the final 31 due to the sheer competition for places and I feel pretty confident about their prospects.  And this is built on, of course, Glasgow's excellent championship winning performance in 2014/15. 

But the Embramen are making a lower profile contribution themselves.  In the second half of last season they had build a brutal, Bok-style pack capable of destroying most opponents up front.  They came up short ultimately because they lacked quality and incisiveness in the brylcreme zone of the back division.  Addressing that is, for me, the big challenge this term.  If they do that, there could be fun to be had in EH12.

This evening's outing against Leinster at Meggetland was therefore particularly interesting in the selection behind the scrum.  Phil Burleigh took the first five-eighth slot with the new combination of Beard and Dean in the centres and sevens starlet Damien Hoyland, no stranger to grooming products, prowling on the wing.

But I suspect most folk were also looking forward to seeing new No 8 star Nasi Manu with ball in hand in a well-balanced back row.  And things started as they left off last year with the Embra scrum smashing Leinster in the first set piece.  After some big Gunner D in the first five minutes, they forced a scrum penalty in what is becoming typical style as the Leinster eight folded under pressure, clearing their lines as a result.

Dear old Peter Fitzgibbon with the whistle wasn't making himself popular with many folk, penalising Leinster in a great attacking position for a breakdown offence on 10 minutes, allowing the home side to clear again.  He was, though, being admirably firm in ensuring a fair contest for the ball on the floor.  The Gunners needed some field position as the Irish side were looking frisky in the pleasant conditions. Both sides, indeed, were playing with pace and width, Fowles' speed of service from the breakdown a real feature of the Edinburgh attack.  A high tackle on 16 minutes gave Leinster's Fijian import Nacewa a straightforward penalty for a 3-0 Irish lead on 17 minutes, deserved on the run of play.  He missed a second effort on 22 minutes as the Gunners gave away a scrum penalty wheeling.  Fowles did a Laidlaw shortly after, a long range effort on 24 minutes just sneaking over to level affairs.

Boy, when Nasi Manu clears a ruck, it stays cleared.  Boom! 

Embra were starting to open up a bit now, Burleigh finding gaps as he took the ball up himself, but their handling just let them down at crucial times on a couple of occasions. I liked the ambition, though, and this was a more adventurous gameplan than last season.  And on 32 minutes lovely interplay between Burleigh and Manu almost saw Dougie Fife over but the impressive centre replacement Johnstone, on for the unfortunate Chris Dean, knocked on under huge pressure,

It was back to the pack from the succeeding Leinster defensive scrummage, Edinburgh forcing the penalty, which Burleigh kicked to the corner.  But the Gunners' close-in phases ended in a penalty when Andress was pinged coming in from the side at an attacking ruck.  When Hoyland was high tackled on 37 minutes, Fowles had another long penalty shot, but the peroxide half back pulled the kick just wide.  3-3 it was at the break and things were looking positive for the Embramen.  One felt that they had gained the upper hand in the second quarter and it was only a touch of early season rustiness in their handling - and sound Leinster defence - that had denied them the lead.

The heavens opened during the half time break and one wondered whether play might become tighter with a wet ball and the wind at the home side's backs.  With the power they had shown up front in the first period, that would have made some sense.  Sure enough, Leinster knocked the restart on, giving the home scrum a chance to chow down.  The repeated poddery succeeding it made no ground but the referee was playing offside advantage for an offence inside the 22. Unfortunately, Fowles sliced the simple kick but there was still encouragement as Leinster replaced both of their props in a clear sign of concern over their set piece.  With Edinburgh camped in the visitors' half, one felt that the breakthrough had to come soon.

Leinster collapsed an attacking maul on 50 minutes and Burleigh kicked to the corner again. The maul rumbled over the line, having survived clear Leinster attempts to take it down.  The TMO rightly saw the ball knocked on from Roddy, superbly defended by the Irish.  But Embra could still go after a weak defensive scrummage.  They duy won a free kick as Leinster panicked under pressure.  An attacking Gunner scrum was the right option.  The phases pounded the line repeatedly until du Preez took ball, spun and offloaded brilliantly to Damien Hoyland for just about the shortest run-in this young man will ever have.  The try had been coming for some time and owed much to the power of the home back row.  Fowles just missed the tough kick from the corner to leave the margin 8-6 on 55 minutes. When Nacewa pulled a penalty back shortly afterwards, though, one wondered whether the Gunners might rue their missed goal kicks.

An illustration of the depth Edinburgh now have even during the World Cup.  Roddy goes off and Hamish Watson replaces him as the Leinster scrummage disintegrates again.  How long before someone in white saw yellow? Still 8-6 with fifteen minutes left on the clock.  Tight, but Burleigh was starting to pin Leinster deep in their own half.  Absolutely the right thing to do in these conditions.

Brilliant Watson piracy won ball from an attacking Leinster maul to allow the Gunners to clear a rare Irish attack.  The white side were going nowhere, knocking on ball and the clock was ticking. But Edinburgh were penalised at a scrummage on half way, giving Nacewa a goal opportunity on 68 minutes. He struck it beautifully, but wide.  Still a narrow Edinburgh advantage going into the final 10 minutes.

Leinster going nowhere in midfield immediately afterwards gave away a long penalty chance.  The mercurial Jack Cuthbert slotted the goal, edging his side beyond a penalty ahead at 11-6.  But Edinburgh were penalised immediately at the restart! Nacewa made it as you were, 11-9 Embra with seven minutes left.  Then big breenges Edinburgh around the Leinster red zone forced Kiwi centre Teo to infringe with three minutes left and the Gunners kicked to the corner to kill the clock.  The maul rumbled and rumbled, winning penalty advantage for collapsing and Ryan was rightly carded for the offence.  Same again, the defence drawn in and after a few phases, du Preez saw a three man overlap wide out, passing a second time to his new best friend Hoyland for a slightly longer run-in. Cuthbert didn't quite manage to deny Leinster the losing bonus with the wide conversion effort, but 16-9 at no-side represented a very satisfactory first outing of the season. 

MAN OF THE MATCH: NASI MANU.  The first of many, one feels.