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MUNSTER DENT EDINBURGH TITLE HOPES

Gunners: 17 (7) Munster; 18 (13)



Australian showbiz legend, Dame Edna Everage, once said "You know, possums, God gave me a wonderful gift - the precious ability to laugh at other people's misfortunes."

The rugby equivalent is being able to kick your opponent when he's down. Very hard. Edinburgh's failure to do so at Murrayfield, when they had their opponents under the cosh in the first five minutes and for long periods of the second period, ultimately cost them the match. Despite earning a bonus point, the Gunners also lost both their undefeated home record and three points to Munster in what will be a very tight title race.

Munster were the better side on the night. They looked assured in defence and dangerous in attack at times. Certainly not the side that the great Tony Ward, a former Munster player himself, panned in his newspaper column after their Leinster loss. Edinburgh, meanwhile, put a lot of width on the ball, but the penetration was not there, nor did they create a great deal.

But the Gunners could nevertheless have won this game, with Paterson having a long penalty chance on the stroke of no-side that just came up short. Indeed, they did well to stay in the game until the final whistle, given that Welsh official, Hugh Watkins, refereed the game as if he had once been knocked back by a partiularly attractive Edinburgh girl at some point in his youth, and was still extremely bitter about the whole thing. He carded Dave Hewett on ten minutes for tackling Stringer within ten yards of a tap penalty deep in the Munster 22, with nothing on. A penalty, yes, but why the card? And things went downhill from there from an Edinburgh perspective, while Munster seemed to be given rather more latitude, particularly in their mauling, where the phrase "use it or lose it" was frequently not heard when, one thought, it should have been.

Edinburgh's flying start to the game showed that they were up for it. Twice they were pinged for holding on in the tackle when in a dangerous position, then a knock on again spoiled a promising attack.

But Munster sored first, with their first attack of the game. A couple of quickfire rucks set up O'Gara ten yards out. The fly half put Halstead clean through under the posts for the try on seven minutes, converting it himself.

The score had not taken the wind out of Edinburgh's sails, though, and they stormed back into the game, but Hewett was carded after Edinburgh pressure in the Munster 22. Clearly, this resulted in Edinburgh having to move on to the defensive in a crucial phase of the game. They held out well in the power play, but the momentum was now with the visitors.

When a Munster maul meandered haltingly to just outside the Gunners' 22, seemingly stopped three times, a Gunners penalty for taking the maul down gave O'Gara a penalty chance, which he converted for a 10-0 lead on the half hour.

But Edinburgh grabbed a lifeline with a power try from Scot Murray. Some good pressure culminated in a series of pick and drives on the Munster line. From an attacking scrum, a Blair flick inside saw the veteran second row over for the converted try that brought Edinburgh within three.

And they would have taken the lead immediately afterwards, but Mikey Blair was called back while bearing down on the Munster line for an Edinburgh penalty, when one felt that the correct decision would surely have been to play advantage. O'Gara took advantage himself with a penalty to leave the half-time score 13-7 to the visitors.

The third quarter saw Edinburgh having the lion's share of possession and territory, but unforced errors and a poor lineout saw good work wasted. And Munster again took a rare chance well, with an excellent break down the middle seeing the men in red racing deep into the Edinburgh 22. Good Gunners' defence forced several phases, but eventually O'Gara found Kelly for the unconverted try. 18-7.

But the Gunners hit back immediately, for once benefiting from the referee's reluctance to deal with a stationary Munster maul. When the visitors then spun the ball across field, Di Rollo grabbed a flat pass at halfway and raced home for the converted try under the posts.

After a fantastic Smith breenge, featuring brilliant handling by the prop, keen-eyed observers of the front row saw a less edifying bit of forward play from his opposite number. Francisco Leonelli had had some joy all game chasing kicks up the left wing. As he chased another into the Munster 22, one could see Federico Pucciariello lining up the winger before cynically tripping him. It was a stupid penalty particularly as two defenders seemed to have the situation under control. Nevertheless, the prop was rightly carded and Paterson knocked over the penalty to set up a grandstand finale.

After O'Gara had missed a relatively simple straightforward drop goal attempt, with the clock runing down, this time Paterson was cynically obstructed when chasing a kick ahead. But the captain's penalty attempt just fell short, leaving a relieved Munster side four points clear at the top of the league, and Edinburgh somewhat deflated.

Edinburgh: Hugo, C Paterson (capt), M Di Rollo, P Jorgensen, F Leonelli, P Godman, M Blair, D Hewett, D Hall, C Smith, A Kellock, S Murray, A Hogg, S Taylor, S Cross. Substitutes A Kelly, A Dickinson, A Strokosch, A MacDonald, R Lawson, M Dey, M Pyke.

Munster: S Payne; J Kelly, B Murphy, T Halstead, I Dowling; R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S Keogh, D Wallace.

Referee: Hugh Watkins (WRU).