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MASTERS OF THEIR FATE

Edinburgh Rugby: 28 (3) Stade Francais: 23 (20)




In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeoning of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.


It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.


The last couple of stanzas from William Ernest Henley's 'Invictus', an inpiration to many, including the late Nelson Mandela.  It's about accepting the cards you're dealt and focusing on the things you can control.  It's about dogging it out.

Phil Burleigh's second half dismissal at BT Murrayfield last night, of which a bit more later, looked like it might have dealt a fatal blow to the Gunners' chances of winning this match, ending their Challenge Cup campaign. After a first half of spectacular uselessness, they had somehow clawed their way back to 20-15 down on 57 minutes and the momentum was with them.  'Rocky' Burleigh's foolish blow to the head of Pascal Pape led inevitably to his dismissal because that's what the law says.  Surely the Embramen could not regain the lead and then hold out now?

But they refused to accept defeat and, no doubt in part stung by righteous - albeit misplaced - indignation, they did exactly that.  While it was fantastic to see them dog out a fine win, it was even better to see Man Of The Match SHC playing a crucial role.  The feisty half-back's try just after the hour, coupled with Weir's conversion, narrowed the deficit to just one point with Stade rocking.  

He has such talent but has been going through a tough spell in his career.  One hopes that this might be the catalyst that sees him return to the heights of which he is capable.

Edinburgh are entering a series of matches that will make or break their season.  The middle two Challenge Cup outings, the first leg of the Inter-City and an away trip to Italy could see them remain in contention in Europe and the top six hunt; or fall out of both.  This result was a good start.

Things did not begin auspiciously.  The Gunners were eight points down on eight minutes, Nayacalevu's converted try on five minutes smashing through the defence from short range was followed by a Parks-esque dropped goal from Steyn to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Things got worse at the end of the first quarter when Macalou crossed for the visitors' second, benefiting from a defensive mishap, Steyn's conversion putting them 17-0 up.  It was a fairly straightforward move that the home defence really should have snuffed out.  As it was, Edinburgh were in danger of being overpowered and left behind. They were under huge pressure in most aspects of the game and unforced errors were doing them no good either. When Williams was carded for a high tackle on Bill Mata, they had a good attacking opportunity from close in but failed to execute the rolling maul, allowing Stade to clear.

Gradually, though, they started to win a bit of field position and were rewarded with a Weir penalty on 33 minutes. This was cancelled out on 38 minutes, Steyn's successful kick leaving the score at the break 20-3 Stade.  The Frenchmen looked good value for their lead.  They seemed to be taking this one quite seriously and any side with half-backs the quality of Genia and Steyn are going to be dangerous.

After an indifferent few minutes after half time, Edinburgh at last got their act together.  Off lineout ball, Weir fed Damien Hoyland.  The winger scooted through traffic in trademark fashion to give the Gunners hope with an unconverted try on 46 minutes.

Things got better still minutes later when Weir knocked a penalty to the corner.  The Gunners set up a maul off the lineout and this time executed superbly, Toolis touching down on 52 minutes.  Weir converted to narrow the gap to 20-15 and it was very much game on.

Then came 'Rocky' Burleigh's 'I'll scratch your eyes out' moment. The second five-eighth slapped gigantic lock Pascal Pape gently in the face.  The big man was first stunned at the feebleness of the touch, then collapsed theatrically, holding his face.  That didn't look very edifying.  Burleigh deserved a red for sheer stupidity and the referee had no choice but to send him off.  It's important to remember that.

However, Pape's collapse seemed another symptom of the worrying direction of travel in the professional game at the moment.  We hear so much about how superior rugby supposedly is to football, with the ability of referees to advance penalties 10 metres for backchat, players calling officials 'sir' and all that.  But it is vanishingly rare that one sees dissent being dealt with firmly on the pitch these days.  While some may be worse than others, we need to do something about the appeals with outstretched arms that are becoming so common.

Following the match, the French media were pretty scathing of the actions of the former captain of the French national side.  One hopes that the matter will be investigated under the usual procedures and, should simulation be found to have occurred, appropriate action taken.  Rugby is not so different from football than many suppose and we are on a slippery slope at the moment.

Meanwhile, back on the pitch, Steyn's penalty stretched the Stade lead to eight points on 59 minutes and one felt that that was that.

I reckoned without the mental strength of this young Edinburgh squad.  It is deployed fitfully, but it is a thing of wonder when it appears.  The 14 Embramen put in phases in the enemy red zone for SHC to nip over on 63 minutes, Weir's conversion narrowing the gap to only one point.  It was all to play for now.

And the Gunners took this match by the scruff of the neck and refused to let go.  They won a scrum penalty on 65 minutes and Weir's goal edged them ahead for the first time in the match, 25-23.

After Stade had knocked on in a good attacking position, then knocked on again in a subsequent forward surge to the line, Edinburgh won a penalty at the defensive scrummage.  They won the ensuing lineout and their maul was collapsed by Stade for another penalty. Again Weir kicked to touch, again the wilting French side were penalised defending the maul.  This time, The Glasgow Boy was in range, lined up the kick and made this match safe with his third penalty, on 78 minutes.

While veteran stand-off Duncan 'Hodgey' Hodge must have been tearing out what little hair he has left when watching Edinburgh's first half comedy show, the coaching team clearly delivered a superb half-time talk.  The Gunners were much improved in the second period and in the end ran out deserved winners.  The win leaves them top of the group, but they need to win at least one of their two away matches, in Paris and London, to qualify.

Stade will be smarting after last night.  'Doing a Glasgow' next Thursday in Paris would be an even more impressive achievement than this victory.