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THE NIGHTMARE CONTINUES

Edinburgh Rugby: 15 (12) Newport Gwent Dragons: 29 (23)



It's becoming a real challenge to come up with new terminology to describe the continued freefall in Embra's performances since qualifying for the Heineken quarters.  It's like deja vu all over again, Groundhog Day, you name it.  Scottie from Star Trek may have believed that 'ye cannae change the laws of physics, captain' but these guys are doing their level best to prove that it is possible for a descending object to exceed its terminal velocity after all.  They reached a whole new level of cluelessness at Murrayfield last night in front of a surprisingly large crowd of 4,400 frustrated observers.

The ambition was there, but the execution was not. Granted, the internationals were being rested, and Newport are relatively unaffected by international calls.  But this was still, on the face of it, a strong squad, a number of whom, such as Cox, Gilchrist and Scott, did put in a decent shift on the night.  They should have been looking to win at home.  That they did not seemed mainly down to their mental approach to the game.  Maybe those who think they'll be first choice against Toulouse are simply trying to avoid getting hurt, maybe some others are thinking more about playing to secure a contract next term, maybe they have all decided that there is nothing to play for in the Rabo this season. 

Whatever the reason, there is now only one more match left, at home to the Scarlets next Friday, before the Heineken quarter against European aristocrats Stade Toulousain on Easter Saturday in front of 30,000 plus fans.  That Edinburgh are rapidly approaching this showdown so badly undercooked, so lacking in momentum, is a real worry.  The quarter final is a fantastic opportunity to attract a host of new supporters to pro rugby in Scotland.  Together with Glasgow looking pretty good bets for the Rabo playoffs and some good signings in the bag for both clubs for next season, that would be a great base on which the SRU could grow the supporter base.  But they are unlikely to return in a hurry if they see the Gunners being hammered in a high profile encounter.

After Newport had started ambitiously, trying unsuccessfully to run the kickoff out of their own 22, it was actually Edinburgh who struck first.  Harry Leonard stroked the first of his five penalties through the uprights on three minutes.

The lead was to last only a matter of a couple of minutes.  After Paterson had looked lively to tidy a Newport kick into the Edinburgh 22, he was forced to carry over and concede the scrum five.  The Dragons had a couple of drives close in before Steffan Jones fired a perfect bomb to the other corner for the speeding winger Chavhanga to catch brilliantly and touch down, untroubled by any defender.  Jones looked a tidy playmaker for the hour that he was on the park and had no difficulty with the tricky conversion from the corner.

 Leonard's penalty on 10 minutes seemed to steady the ship a bit, and one felt that they were on their way when Stuart 'Rambo' McInally snaffled loose ball at half way and surged into the enemy half.  The supporting Roddy 'Roddy' Grant's subsequent pass went loose, though and the play ended with the Gunners conceding a penalty as the Newporters countered. Almost immediately, Chavhanga was on the board again.  Newport used the kick behind the defence cleverly all night, and the winger beat Tom Brown to the touchdown in the in-goal area.  Jones' conversion gave the visitors a handy 17-6 lead.

Edinburgh began to threaten a little more in the remainder of the half, with referee Lacey carding openside Waters after a series of Newport penalties at the breakdown.  But the handling was abject and the decision-making not much better.  With the enemy blitz defence coming up very quickly, one felt that Leonard could have flipped the odd inside pass rather than fire the ball wide.  When he did so, to Scott on 23 minutes, he put the second five eighth clean through the defence and hurtling towards the tryline from distance.  With the defence catching him, he looked for support.  Sadly, both Visser and Brown, who had initially been on his shoulder, managed to veer out of range at the last minute.  While that did result in Waters' binning and a penalty, it was pretty typical of the evening.  Edinburgh were trying to make things happen, but the sharpness was just not there.  And too often when an attack broke down, Newport took advantage off the counter.

Jones managed to stretch the lead with his third penalty on the stroke of half time.  Edinburgh's scrummage, which had been OK up until then, stood up under pressure.  Gilding, who had been first to stand up, unwisely told the referee what he thought of the decision, was marched back 10 metres and Jones stroked over the penalty to make the score at the break 23-12 Newport.  By my count, Edinburgh had been penalised four times to Newport's seven, so could not really complain about the whistling.

It was pretty much 'as you were' in the second period.  One felt that Visser was trying to provide a spark that would have ignited both his teammates and his visiting compatriots from Alkmaarse Rugby Club, watching from the stand. He did have his moments in the third quarter, breaking on 50 minutes with only a super tap tackle denying him yet another try, then brilliantly foiling a Newport two-on-one in defence, which Brown's relieving kick nearly turned into a fruitful counter. But replacement stand off Robling's two quickfire penalties on 65 and 68 minutes pretty much killed the game.  Edinburgh huffed and puffed in hte closing minutes, as they had done all game, but didn't really look like scoring.  Newport were content to play for territory and infringe when there was any sign of danger.  Phil Price duly became the second visitor to be carded for a deliberate knock on with five minutes left, but still the home side could not cross the line.

The match ended with replacement Gregor Hunter's intelligent crossfield kick finding Netani, who committed his man and fed Brown beautifully.  But overexcitement at the breakdown deep in the red zone saw an Embra hand knock on and that was that. All too typical of a disappointing evening.

SCORERS:

Edinburgh: Leonard 5P

Newport: Steffan Jones 3P 2C, Robling 2P, Chavhanga 2T

TEAMS:

Edinburgh: Paterson; T. Brown, Fife, Scott, T. Visser; Leonard, Leck; Traynor, Kelly, Gilding, Gilchrist, Cox, Grant, McInally, Netani. Replacements: Hunter for Leonard (72), Walker for Kelly (71), Niven for Gilding (68). Not Used: Gamboa, McAlpine, MacDonald, Black, S. Visser.

Newport Gwent Dragons: Harries, Chavhanga, Hughes, A. Smith, Brew, Steffan Jones, Bedford, N. Williams, Parry, Way, Charteris, Sidoli, Groves, Waters, Brown. Replacements: Robling for S. Jones (60), W. Evans for Bedford (60), Price for N. Williams (58), S. Jones for Parry (52), N. Buck for Way (65), L. Evans for Waters (52). Not Used: Stoddart, M. Thomas.

Att: 4,459

Ref: Lacey (IRFU).