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THE BEAST FROM THE EAST STRIKES AGAIN

Edinburgh Rugby: 24 (21) Glasgow Warriors: 19 (14)



The SRU top brass can look back with some satisfaction on the inaugural Silver Saturday at BT Murrayfield yesterday.  Right from the off, when the mighty Stags of Ross Sutherland prevailed in the National Bowl final, kicking off at 1000 a.m., to a floodlit Nathan Fowles hoofing the ball into the stands at the conclusion of the third leg of the 1872 Cup, this was a celebration of Scottish rugby, both men's and women's.

As usual with BT Murrayfield these days, the off-field offer was as strong as the on-field entertainment and over 25,000 souls made this a record crowd for the Inter-City.  And what a match rounded off this magical day.

We have become used to the 1872 being a bit of a slugfest, with the odd glimpse of quality - usually from Glasgow.  There was certainly no doubt that this was a derby match, albeit with the backs on both sides kicking off rather more than the packs.  Even Finn Russell got in on the act, the mercurial playmaker pinged at one point for a foolish off the ball shove on opposite number 'Piet' van der Walt.

There were mistakes aplenty under pressure and high quality defence from both sides.  But it also proved to be quite the most entertaining 1872 Cup match for some time, delivering six tries and end-to-end action. The pick of the touchdowns was surely that of Callum Gibbins, bringing to a conclusion a mesmerising move sparked by a fine break from Nick Grigg and featuring Finn, the sorcerer supreme, twice.

Little cameos here and there demonstrated why the future for Scottish rugby is bright.  While the Gunners are not quite there in terms of their half back combinations, I am beginning to think that the Warriors may not miss Finn as much as feared.  The most impressive sleight of hand last night came from Adam Hastings, who looks destined not only to become Glasgow's first choice first five-eighth, but also Finn's main challenger for the national 10 shirt. 

When your dad is one of your country's all time greats and your uncle wasn't much further behind him, that puts a great deal of pressure on you.  Adam bears that burden easily and, whisper it, may grow into a more complete player than the current incumbent.  I am very much looking forward to seeing this young man develop.

But in the battle of the van der Merwes, it was Duhan 'the Beast from The East' who prevailed, despite DTH winning the try count between them 2-1.  The big winger is perhaps one illustration of where Edinburgh are at the moment.  He is an exceptionally talented young man with huge potential.  When things click for him, he has delivered this season - his well-worked try showed his pace and power.  But he remains raw and is learning his trade.  The potential to kick on is enormous.

The Gunners took a further step forward last night, into playoff rugby and back to Champions Cup competition next term.  As it happened, the pressure was off, Ulster's earlier draw at Thomond Park meaning that Edinburgh were secure in third position in PRO14 Conference B.  Their reward is a trip to Thomond themselves next weekend for the first round in the playoffs.  Like last night, they have nothing to lose.  They can give it their best shot, see what happens, and learn from the experience for the future.

One key figure in the story so far has been Neil Cochrane.  The veteran hooker, accompanied by his children, led the Gunners onto the field prior to his last match at BT Murrayfield before retirement.  In any team, it is the unsung heroes such as him who make the difference between success and failure.  It was fitting that he should depart at the end of the evening clutching the coveted Edinburgh Rugby Supporters' Club Cauillie Lug for his contribution over many seasons.

Both sides suffered a number of late call-offs.  Perhaps this was due to live ammunition being used during the pre-match warm ups or, rather more likely, the fitness of key players not being risked in a match where the outcome would have no bearing on playoff hopes. Whatever the truth might have been, the 25,000 observers were treated to Test match intensity rugby.

DTH van der Merwe, celebrating his century in his second spell at Scotstoun, put Glasgow ahead.  Russell's cute kick behind the defence found the Canadian winger hugging the touchline and he skipped out of the covering Fife's tackle to cross for a 7-0 lead.  James Johnstone, who has quietly emerged as a quality outside centre this season, smashed over to level the scores after a number of quickfire phases in the enemy 22.

Then came the best score of the evening, which was classic Glasgow in its pace and prestidigitation.  Gibbins was more prominent in the rough stuff up front during this match, but was on hand to take the scoring pass from Russell after outstanding work from demon mauler George Horne and Grigg.  14-7 to the visitors and the Gunners needed to take some pace out of the match as it was already developing into the sort of freewheeling encounter that the Warriors love so much.

More Edinburgh field position cranked up the pressure and eventually Jordan Lay, who has proven to be quite an asset at loosehead, crossed at low altitude to level the scores at 14 apiece with the SHC conversion.

And the fiesty half back, who had a fine match overall, was to be key in Edinburgh retaking a lead they were not to surrender just before the break. 'Big' Ben Toolis charged down a Horne clearance, One Man Wrecking Ball Jamie (T) Ritchie took the ball up then SHC saw an enormous gap on Glasgow's right wing.  His kick sat up well for the chasing Beast From the East, who beat the covering Hogg to cross in the corner.  A fine conversion put the Embramen 21-14 up at half time.  While it was all to play for in the second period, that was to prove the key moment in this match.

Edinburgh started to take control after the restart and were rewarded by a penalty from Duncan Weir, the Glasgow Boy.  This followed an interception and lengthy run from man of the Match Stuart 'Rambo' McInall, which led to the Glasgow infringement.  The pressure was reflected in the Warriors' tackle and penalty counts.  Indeed, Ryan Wilson was a mite fortunate only to be penalised for a trip on SHC nipping round the back of a maul.  That said, the decision was another example of Nigel Owens' sympathetic approach to whistling a match - abiding closely by teh spirit of the law, if not its every letter.  The two of them exchanged a smile, the message sent and received, and the bumper crowd were assured of a thrilling finale.

Thrilling, certainly, was the extraordinary line break by replacement tighthead Halanukonuka, which wreaked havoc in the Gunners' defence.  Russell then found DTH beautifully for the winger to cross in the corner for his brace. Yet although that narrowed the gap to 24-19 Edinburgh, and the Warriors enjoyed good field position,  the Gunners went into their standard final 10 minute drill.  They kept ball, killed the clock and ran out deserved winners of this match and the 1872 Cup.