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PERFORMANCE THE KEY FOR YOUNG GUNS

Edinburgh Rugby v Connacht - Match Preview



12 February 2004

Last Friday's mauling at the hands of Cardiff Blues brought back memories of how things used to be. It is not so long ago that Cardiff were putting 80 points on Edinburgh Reivers at Myreside. Nowadays, it is inconceivable that Edinburgh's first choice would suffer the same fate; indeed, it is unlikely that they would lose at home to the Blues at all. The defeat was only the second at Meadowbank so far this season, and both took place when the big boys were away.

The Gunners' depth is being severely tested during the 6 Nations, with few other Celtic League teams suffering as many international calls - 11 - as the capital club. The meteoric rise of Ali Hogg and Simon Cross, though great to see, together with Under-21 call-ups, has left the back-row, in particular, short of bodies. But the part-timers have shown extraordinary commitment in training and will learn from the experience of being exposed to top-class opposition.

Naturally, they will make mistakes. But it is important that they keep trying to play Gunners Rugby. It was encouraging to see the likes of Hugo Southwell at full-back always looking to set up attacks from deep last Friday. Some of the more adventurous passes did not come off, and the defence was not as sound as Gunners fans have come to expect, but the endeavour was certainly there. All that supporters can reasonably ask of the players is that they get stuck in, try their best, and keep fighting to the end.

Edinburgh make five changes to the team that lost to the Blues, with skipper Graeme Burns in for Rory Lawson, and Angus Martyn and Andrew Dall coming in to the back-row, Nathan Pike replacing the injured Guy Perrett, and Joel Brannigan coming in on rotation for Craig Smith, who moves to the bench. There's also a place on the bench for Fergus Pringle, currently playing for Hawick. Martyn is a former Scottish Under 21 cap, having played for the national team during a previous spell with Boroughmuir.

Connacht make eight changes from the team that lost to the Celtic Warriors. There are five changes in the pack, with Dan McFarland and Bernard Jackman returning to the front row, Damian Browne comes back into the second row, while John Muldoon and Tom Carter start in the back row. Eric Elwood and Conor O'Loughlin start at half-back, with Shane Moore selected at inside centre; Mark McHugh reverts to full-back with Matt Mostyn moving to the right-wing.

Edinburgh Rugby have come up with some attractive ticketing offers for occasional supporters. There is a 2-for-1 offer on adult (£15) and concession (£8) tickets, and students can get over worries about tuition fees with a £1 ticket on production of their matriculation cards. The ground will not be open this time, but the Clubroom will, and as usual you will have the chance to meet the players over a beer after the game.

KEY PLAYERS:

Connacht's threat is based on a highly effective mauling game, which will be helped by today's damp conditions. The EDINBURGH pack must neutralise the danger if the Gunners are to unleash the pace of Sharman, Southwell, and Di Rollo. For CONNACHT, the old master, Eric Elwood, is still pulling the strings to great effect, and Mark McHugh will kick goals from anywhere. But the Gunners will need to keep an eye on the lively Darren Yapp, who scored a hat-trick from centre last time the two sides met.

ED'S VERDICT

Realistically, Gunners fans should be looking for the youngsters to develop during the 6 Nations period. It is asking too much to expect them to win every game, but they will benefit from the experience, which should pay off for the Gunners in the long term. With no Six Nations absentees, the Irishmen will clearly start the game as favourites. While Edinburgh did win in Galway during the World Cup, on that occasion they had the services of Brendan Laney, Scott Murray, Ali Hogg and Simon Cross, not to mention Todd Blackadder. All of these players will be absent on Friday, and the Editorial prediction is a better home performance, but a narrow loss

TEAMS:

Edinburgh Rugby: Southwell; Sharman (Currie), Di Rollo, Dey, Joiner; Warnock, Burns (captain); Jacobsen, Hall, Brannigan, Pike (Boroughmuir), Kellock, Dall, Harrison, Martyn. Subs: Kelly, Smith, Pringle, Fisher, Lawson, Monro, Clapperton.

Connacht: McHugh; Mostyn, Yapp, Moore, McPhillips; Elwood, O'Loughlin; McFarland, Jackman, Clarke, Browne, Farley, Muldoon, Carter, O'Sullivan. Replacements: Uijs, Bracken, McCarthy, Neville, Keane, Hewitt, Robinson.


European rankings as at 9 February 2004: Edinburgh: 14 (-4) Connacht: 18 (-2) (http://www.eurorugby.com/index.php)

Referee: TBC

Kick-off: 7.30 pm at the Theatre of Dreams, London Road