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RESPECT IS DUE

But Toulouse end Gunners' Euro hopes 10 April 2004



The European champions ended Edinburgh's European adventure for another year in front of a massive 38,000 crowd in Toulouse this afternoon. But it took ten minutes of brilliance at the end of the game to seal the victory. The Gunners tackled like men possessed, and rattled their illustrious opponents to such an extent that they were attempting hopeful pots at goal, rather than keeping the ball in hand, in the third quarter with the game in the balance.

The visitors could point to their own penalty count, few favours from referee Rolland, and unforced errors as factors in the loss. And at 10-7 down at half-time and 13-7 down with half an hour to play, a famous Edinburgh victory was indeed a possibility. But the relentless pounding from the Toulouse pack, the bullocking drives of Labit, and the sheer genius of Poitrenaud and Clerc saw les toulousains home with something to spare. They were worthy winners, and if they play the way they did in the first and last ten minutes of this match, then they will "three-peat" as Heineken champions at a canter.

Although under severe pressure from the kick-off, the Gunners gave as good as they got in the opening exchanges. Blackadder, in particular, had a number of fine steals in the tackle situation, which allowed the visitors to counter. But a Gunner was caught offside on seven minutes to give the home team a 3-0 lead.

They added to that lead four minutes later, with several good phases taking the ball to the Gunners' line. A nice angle, combined with power and pace saw Labit crash over for the try, goaled by Delaigue. The big back row impressed throughout the game with his driving play and sublime handling. The alarm bells were beginning to ring, and the words "cricket" and "score" came to mind.

But that would be to do the Gunners a huge disservice. They hit back immediately from the kick-off with a fine series of phases, the skipper and Allan Jacobsen - not for the first time - featuring prominently taking the ball up. Laney saw a gap in the defence on the 22, stepped inside and burst for the line. Only a last-ditch tackle kept him out, and he was penalised for holding on too long. A good chance went a begging, but there were promising signs that the Gunners were not overawed by Toulouse or their huge crowd.

The Gunners were continuing to compete well at the breakdown, yet while they were winning good turnover ball, little errors meant that they did not use it effectively. Their defence was coping well, with Murray then Cross putting in outstanding stops in dangerous situations as the first quarter ended.

The home team were becoming a little irritated that Edinburgh were refusing to lie down to let them play the fancy stuff, and Brennan was penalised for an off-the-field lunge at Edinburgh physio Stuart Barton - perhaps not quite what the chirpy Barty had expected of his afternoon. The ERC will surely be watching Brennan's antics again on video with a view to taking some further action.

Shortly afterwards, a great Paterson break put Philip away on the burst, but the promising move ended in an Edinburgh knock on. That was almost Paterson's last act of the game, as injury forced him off on the half-hour, to be replaced by Hugo, who went on to have a solid game.

Edinburgh were coping well with the Toulouse maul, and outstanding work by Cross on the Gunners' tryline disrupted them so effectively that the home team were penalised for holding on as the maul went to ground.

As the half came to an end, the Gunners' increasing confidence could be seen in fine breaks by Hogg, Jacobsen and Di Rollo. The latter couldn't quite offload in the enemy 22 after Laney had gathered his own charged down chip and set the centre on his way. But Marcus didn't have to wait long for his score, as, inside injury time, another great steal in the tackle by Blackadder led to a Gunners attack. Di Rollo put Hogg away on the burst, and supported intelligently to take the return pass and break two tackles for the score, converted by Laney. 10-7 at half-time. Game on.

After an enterprising start to the second half, with Webster trying a daring run from the opening kick-off, Toulouse nudged further ahead with a Delaigue penalty. In retrospect, the third quarter was where the game was lost, with the Gunners living on the borderline to deny Toulouse possession, and often turning it over. On several occasions, though, the ball squirted out of a Toulouse ruck, to be pounced on by a Gunner, only for referee Rolland to adjudge that the defender had come in from the side. The decisions could have gone either way, but Blackadder was rightly penalised on 48 minutes, then Craig Smith was pinged for a scrummage offence. At 19-7, the gap was widening.

On 65 minutes, patient Gunners play spanning the field with Jacobsen to the fore led to an opening. Laney put Di Rollo away and the centre put a clever chip behind the onrushing defence. A score was on, but he was cynically taken out. There was no yellow card and the Laney penalty narrowed the margin, but it should have been more.

Another Edinburgh penalty allowed Delaigue to kick the home team to a 22-10 lead going into the last ten minutes and the game was effectively over at that stage. Unburdened by the pressure that had been steadily growing on them, Toulouse scored a couple of late tries, by Poitrenaud and Clerc, taking advantage of a tiring Edinburgh defence, to leave the final score 36-10.

So the dream is over for another year, but Edinburgh can again leave Toulouse with their heads held high. They remain one of the youngest squads in the competition and have won respect across Europe. Indeed, among the outstanding performers today in a side full of guts were the youngest Gunners - Hogg, Philip, Cross, and Hall. Their peak is some way off yet, and they are set fair to improve on this year's historic achievement of becoming the first Scottish side ever to get to the Heineken knock-out stages.

MAN OF THE MATCH

The Gunners put in heroic performances across the pitch. But the editorial vote goes to Ally Hogg for an outstanding performance in the loose, tight, and in defence. A special mention must also go to the travelling support, who made the long trek south to cheer on their favourites. The result may not have been in their favour this time, but there are surely good times ahead for this team.

Edinburgh Rugby: Lee; Webster, Di Rollo, Philip, Paterson; Laney, Blair; Jacobsen, Hall, Brannigan, Hines, Murray, Blackadder (captain), Hogg, Cross. Subs: Smith, Kelly, Kellock, Strokosch, Burns, Hugo, Joiner.

Referee: Alain "Stopwatch" Rolland (IRFU)