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Edinburgh: 38 (10) Connacht: 8 (8)

Last weekend, Scotland went in at the break handily placed to kick on against a stuffy but limited Italian team.  As those who were still able to watch what ensued from behind their sofas know only too well, 40 minutes of utter cluelessness gifted the victory to the ecstatic Italians instead.  Tonight, Edinburgh too held a useful half-time lead over game Connacht, having played into a gale force northerly at Murrayfield.  But they showed the national team how to close out games like these by scoring 28 unanswered points in the second period to romp away with a fine bonus point win.

There was an air of unhurried efficiency in everything the Gunners did tonight.  Although the lineout was pretty ropey throughout, in all other aspects of the game they looked comfortable.  They dealt with the wind well, defended soundly, competing tigerishly at the breakdown, and took their chances with the clinical touch that skipper Hogg had demanded prior to the match.

Connacht played a wider game than has previously been their wont.  And they were backed by an extraordinarily vocal visiting support, whose stamina saw them going strong for the full 80 minutes.  But while they made the odd break, and showed ambition, they never really looked like creating a try.  It was telling that their only touchdown of the night - a superb breakaway started and finished by stand-off Donnelly - was the result of an interception with Edinburgh pressing in the visiting 22.

Yet although Edinburgh started brightly, they were three points down after six minutes, Donnelly booting a penalty for a high tackle.  Connacht had the best of the early exchanges until hothead prop Robbie Morris (remember the name, as he'll be back later) did something untoward at a breakdown.  Referee Jones immediately reversed a penalty against Edinburgh and carded the tighthead on 12 minutes.   The card seemed a bit harsh, but there you go. 

Godman knocked the penalty to touch.  Off the lineout, the Edinburgh pack drove a maul deep into the enemy 22.  When it collapsed, Blair moved the ball to the narrow side, where his stand-off partner took it in traffic and danced through the defence for a well-taken try.  His conversion gave Edinburgh a 7-3 lead, a lead that was not really deserved on the run of play.

Edinburgh nearly took further advantage of the power play, with Houston and Webster almost breaking free.  But with the Gunners continuing to press hard, an errant Godman pass was picked off by Donnelly, who hared south.  Neat interplay allowed Connacht to overcome Hugo's excellent last-ditch tackle, the visiting 10 crossing for a fine try.  That was his last act of the match, as the exhausted playmaker was replaced as Morris rejoined the fray.  Riordan's conversion effort hit the post.

Edinburgh were beginning to gain the upper hand, with more pressure forcing a Connacht penalty on 27 minutes.  Although Godman was just wide this time, he was on target after 30 minutes to give Edinburgh a 10-8 lead.

With three minutes left in the half, Connacht took a quick tap penalty in their 22.  Webster impeded O'Loughlin without retreating ten metres.  For some reason, Cairns was carded, in one of tonight's referee's "Specsaver" moments.  Even had Jones identified the guilty man, it would have been a harsh decision.  But the Gunners held out comfortably enough until the break.  They had done well to secure a narrow lead despite playing into a wind, the influence of which on punting only became clear when Connacht faced it in the second period.  If Nick de Luca has had his confidence damaged by his Six Nations experience, it certainly didn't show.  The centre's elusiveness was a feature of the first half and he was at the heart of much good Edinburgh attacking play.

The highlight of the opening stages of the second period was the substitution of the hapless Morris.  He had had a pretty tough game, with the Edinburgh scrummage in the ascendant.  But he threw the most extraordinary hissy fit on returning to the dugout, a petulant boot fracturing a couple of visiting water bottles.  Miaow.

With Edinburgh back to full strength shortly afterwards, it was not long before they extended their lead.  A good series of phases around Connacht's 22 seemed to have stalled.  But the ball was shipped left and Cairns' floated pass found Craig Smith in space on the wing.  "Biggers" positively sprinted over in the corner, no-one being unwise enough to get in his way.  Godman's superb conversion from the touchline gave Edinburgh a 17-8 cushion on 51 minutes.

The game was over as a contest five minutes later.  An alert Blair tap on his own 22 eventually forced a poor Connacht clearance, giving Edinburgh an attacking lineout.  The ball was again moved swiftly along the line for Cairns the provider.  The outside centre's pass this time put Hugo in space.  The full back arced round behind the posts for try number three, goaled again by Godman. 

The bonus point was secured on the hour.   A rare Connacht foray into the Edinburgh 22 broke down.  Quick hands sparked a Gunner breakout, Andy "Ned" Kelly's wonderful bullocking run taking the ball on to halfway.  Great interchanging from there beat the cover to put the skipper over for a great try, Godman converting for a 31-8 lead.  Edinburgh were now out of sight.

Coach Robinson then started to make replacements to rest the front liners and give game time to his bench, Webster making way for Andy "Turny" Turnbull.  A rather less welcome change saw de Luca helped from the field after extensive treatment following an outrageous high tackle by McCarthy.  The Connacht replacement was penalised for the challenge, indicating that the referee saw it as foul play rather than an accident.  Yet, given that referee Jones had issued two soft cards earlier on, it was astounding that he seemed to have misplaced the yellow at this juncture.

As the match moved into the last ten minutes, Connacht were still fighting gamely, their fans still singing.  But Matt Mustchin, who had played a blinder since coming on after 47 minutes, killed them off. He grabbed an errant Connacht pass on the enemy 22 and showed a surprising turn of pace to scoot over under the posts, flinging the ball the height of the goalposts in celebration.  Godman's conversion made the final score a comprehensive 38-8 Edinburgh victory.

If Edinburgh are to be challenging for a place on the podium at the end of the season, they need to focus on winning each game as it comes.  Tonight they really had to come away with five points.  And they delivered.

Only two home games left this term, but they're biggies.  Next Friday against Cardiff, and 18 April against leaders Leinster.  In between comes the second Inter City match of the season.  Three wins would see Edinburgh handily placed as the league race hots up.

MEN OF THE MATCH: Magners - ALI HOGG; Match sponsors - CRAIG SMITH


Edinburgh: Godman 1T 1P 5C, Smith 1T, Hugo 1T, Hogg 1T, Mustchin 1T

Connacht: Donnelly 1P 1T


Edinburgh: Hugo; S Webster, B Cairns, N De Luca, J Houston; P Godman, M Blair; G Kerr, A Kelly, C Smith, C Hamilton, B Gissing, AHogg (capt), D Callam, R Rennie. Replacements: A Allori, S Lawrie, S Cross, M Mustchin, B Meyer, C MacRae, A Turnbull.

Connacht: G Duffy; K Matthews, M Mostyn, M Deane, A Wynne; T Donnelly, C O'Loughlin; J Lyne, A Flavin, R Morris, A Browne, A Farley, JMuldoon, C Rigney, J O'Connor. Replacements: J Merrigan, B Wilkinson, R Loughney, DGannon, M McCarthy, C McPhillips, T Nathan.