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THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN

Edinburgh Rugby V Newportgwentdragons - Match preview 1 April 2004



Excuses about international calls, and hopeful noises about how "character building" the last two months may or may not have been for young players and Gunners fans alike, can now be safely cast aside. For the big boys are, indeed, back in town. If they're anything like their loyal supporters, they are currently in a pretty grumpy mood and are looking for something - or someone - on whom to take out their frustrations.

The loss of Simon Taylor for nine months or so is a big blow to the squad as well as to the player himself. But it gives Ally Hogg the opportunity to establish himself at No 8 in the Gunners team and, perhaps, the national side meantime. Todd Blackadder and many of the club's internationals return to action on Friday in a bid to return the club to winning ways. As well as the skipper, Laney, Lee, Webster, Blair, Jacobsen, and Hines are back in the fold, with the Chainsaw stepping back in at stand-off. Paterson, Philip, Dey, Hall, and Hogg are ruled out by injury or illness. Young Andrew Kelly comes in at hooker as a result.

Enter the Dragons. It is no accident that Mike Ruddock has recently been anointed as Wales' next national coach. There has been some fairly heated debate in the Principality over precisely how he got the job, given that he wasn't on the original short leet and one who was, the Scarlets' Gareth Jenkins, seemed to be an eminently well-qualified man for the job. But under his guidance, Newport, and now the Dragons, have been formidable outfits. They are challenging for the Celtic League, and overcame the Gunners at Rodney Parade this season by digging deep when behind in the final quarter to grind out the win. They are taking a strong side to Edinburgh and the second row duel between the Murray-Hines and Sidoli-Gough combos should be an enthralling one.

This is, in some respects, a warm-up game for the more important business of the Heineken quarter-final in Toulouse over the Easter weekend, when all but Taylor and Dey will be fit. But it is crucial that Edinburgh wrap up the top Scottish seeding in Europe for next season, and also climb back up the Celtic League. To do that, they really must win their three remaining home games.

KEY PLAYERS

The return of Talismanic Todd for EDINBURGH, together with many familiar faces from the recent past, should make a big difference to the Gunners' competitiveness. The DRAGONS will be bringing the great Percy Montgomery with them. The home defence will need to keep a watchful eye on the sprightly Springbok, but it is the visitors' scrummaging that is their most dangerous weapon, and in Beattie, Forster and Skinstad, they have a very useful back row.

ED'S VERDICT

Home win. Nuff said.

TEAMS

Edinburgh Rugby: Lee; Webster, Di Rollo, Dickson, Southwell; Laney, Blair; Jacobsen, Kelly, Brannigan, Hines, Murray, Blackadder (c), Dall, Cross. Subs: Di Ciacca, Smith, Kellock, Strokosch, Lawson, Warnock, Joiner.

Dragons: Tuipulotu; Brew, Montgomery, Winn, Luscombe; Warlow, Baber; Black, S Jones, Thomas, Gough, Sidoli, Beattie, Forster (c), Skinstad Replacements: Crawford, Snow, Owen, Ringer, R Jones, Jarvis, Breeze

Eurorugby.com rankings: Edinburgh 29 (down 5) Dragons 14 (up 1)

Kick off: Friday 2 April, 7.30 pm, Theatre of Dreams, London Road