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STROKER STARS AS SCARLETS SUBSIDE

Gunners: 23 Scarlets: 0



In the good old days, when Mike "Iron Mike" Tyson was laying about the entire heavyweight division in ruthless fashion, a curious tradition emerged in the editorial household. After being whipped up into a frenzy by Harry Carpenter's pre-fight build-up, several members would invariably pop out to the kitchen as the opening bell sounded in order to make some toast and brew a nice pot of tea. The hapless caterers would return a minute later, only to discover the latest poor sap lying on the canvas, in the middle of being counted out after the usual Tyson haymaker. Tonight's game was certainly not over as a contest so quickly, but the crucial blows were struck before three minutes had elapsed.

Llanelli had started brightly, with both right wing Havili and no 8 Powell looking lively. After several phases, the Scarlets' full back, Garan Evans, came into the line at pace and on a good angle. It seemed certain that he would score, but a brilliant Hugo tackle stopped him in his tracks, and the Gunners were able to handle the follow-up phases.

Shortly afterwards, a superb Webster interception in his own 22 saw the winger streak down the left wing to deep into the enemy 22, where he was just halted by a despairing Llanelli lunge. The ball was spun across quickly to the other wing, where Craig Smith had a rumble, Paterson had a jink, then the Dingwall Dynamo, Dougie Hall, powered over for the opener, goaled by Paterson.

This was Gunners rugby at its best. Patient defence suddenly turned into attack; an injection of blistering pace; quick recycling; finished off by an athletic front rower who had the pace and intelligence to pop up in the right place at the right time. Brilliant.

Five minutes later, Paterson increased the lead to 10, as Llanelli pulled down the rumbling Gunners maul as it was sailing over their try line. Indeed, the Gunners pack were dominant throughout the game in most respects, destroying the enemy scrummage, rolling their mauls intelligently, and winning good, quick ball at the breakdown.

Again, in a sequence that was to be repeated throughout the match, Llanelli had some useful pressure in the Gunners' 22 in the following five minutes, but first Laney, then Blair cleared safely after good work by the pack in defence.

And it was Blair who sparked the next Gunners chance, off a shattered Scarlets' scrum on halfway. The international scrum half fed Callam, then Pringle in midfield, before the ball was moved swiftly left to see Hugo surging almost to the line. From the succeeding lineout, the Gunners maul rumbled well, but while it seemed that three Scarlets were taking a relaxed approach to rolling away from the ball on the floor, the Gunners were instead penalised for what seemed to be simple old-fashioned rucking of the man killing the ball, and the chance was lost.

Not for long though. A telegraphed pass was intercepted by Blair on the Llanelli 10, and no-one was going to stop him scorching over under the posts for the converted try that left Llanelli with a mountain to climb. Edinburgh were to come close on several more occasions, through Hugo and the pack, but somehow the Scarlets managed to disrupt, leaving the half-time score a comfortable 17 - 0 Gunners.

And it was very much as you were in the second half. Some fabulous continuity play from the opening kick off saw Strokosch, Hugo and Webster featuring as the Gunners chucked the ball around to good effect. The Gunners then shifted to offensive defence, repeatedly knocking Scarlet ball carriers back in the tackle. While Llanelli's handling was often very good, and in Dwayne Peel they had a feisty and tricky scrum half, they found themselves consistently nailed way behind the gain line, spending much of their time going backwards. Even the introduction of the combative Salesi Finau made little difference.

Their frustration boiled over into indiscipline, which gifted Paterson a penalty for offside on the hour, after an excellent Webster break had almost put Godman over. Seven minutes later, Paterson made sure with a penalty for Llanelli again pulling down a dangerous Edinburgh maul close in.

With Cross and Hines already back on the park after their long injury lay offs, there were further extensive home substitutions in the final ten minutes with the outcome certain, but the home side's relaxed, efficient defence, and frequent lightning attacks, continued unabated.

With five minutes remaining, Easterby hit Godman very late and rather high after a clearance, yet despite extensive discussions among the officials, he simply received the latest in a series of stern "this is your last warning, no I really, really mean it this time" wiggings issued by referee McKay to the visitors. Then, on a more positive note, Lawson and Dickinson came close to a score in injury time.

Referee McKay also caused some bemusement around Murrayfield by blowing for full-time with less than two minutes of injury time having been played, despite the second half having seen extensive stoppages for Scarlet knocks, injuries to Thomas and Cooper having eaten up rather longer than that in themselves. Shades of his compatriot, Alain Rolland's, eccentric timekeeping last season against the Ospreys, but in reverse?

There was much to be pleased with in tonight's performance. The Gunners were rock solid in defence, their loose play was of a high standard, and the error count remains low. They took their chances and, but for some solid Llanelli defending, could - and possibly should - have wrapped up a bonus point. Indeed, it was only the try count that was slightly disappointing this evening in a game where the Gunners were in control. Bonus points may be crucial in qualifying for the Celtic Cup and in the race for Scotland's top seeding in next season's Heineken. With two tries under their belts after the first half, Edinburgh really should have gone on to notch another brace in the second period for the extra point.

Fellow basement inhabitants Cardiff are next up for Edinburgh at the Arms Park. The Gunners currently have a 1-1 Celtic League record in Wales this season. If they can pull it off, an away win should see them claw their way back into the Celtic Cup places.

MAN OF THE MATCH

ALI STROKOSCH, for a dominating performance at openside. With Simon Cross also looking lively on his return, surely Matt Williams will be looking no further for no. 7 candidates in the Six Nations?

SCORERS:

EDINBURGH: Paterson 3P 2C, Hall 1T, Blair 1T

SCARLETS: -

TEAMS:

EDINBURGH RUGBY: Hugo; Paterson, Di Rollo, Laney, Webster; Godman, Blair; Jacobsen, Hall, Smith, Murray, Pringle, Blackadder, Callam, Strokosch. Replacements: Kelly, Dickinson, Hines, Cross, Lawson, Joiner, Lee.

LLANELLI SCARLETS: Evans; Havili, Watkins, Phillips, Selley; Bowen, Peel; John, McBryde, Davies, Cooper, Duley, Easterby, Powell, Boobyer. Replacements. Williams, Gravelle, Wyatt, Jones, Mills, Thomas, Finau.

Referee: Mckay (Ireland)