CHUNK TAKES A FINAL BOW
Edinburgh Rugby: 31 (25) Newportgwentdragons: 24 (10)
Allan 'Chunk' Jacobsen tormented his last tighthead at professional level at Murrayfield this evening. There was not a dry eye in the house as the legendary loosehead said goodbye after 16 years with the club throughout its various incarnations. While we have had a blizzard of corporate identities, management changes and wildly fluctuating budgets during that time, one man has stood like a colossus throughout.
On a night of high emotion, which was reminiscent in many ways of the equivalent fixture last season, when Chris Paterson bowed out, the Embra tifosi said goodbye to a man who has been a fixture in the side for more years than anyone cares to remember. Like Peter Clohessy at Munster, Chunk spent his entire professional career at one club. The idea of moving elsewhere never seemed to occur to him. At moments of deep depression - which have been pretty frequent for observers of goings-on at Murrayfield this season - sometimes one might question whether a few players are giving 100% commitment for one reason or another. Chunk never gave anything less. He was, in the words of the old cliche, Edinburgh through and through. This was his home and he was intensely proud to represent Edinburgh.
Always a prop with considerable potential, he had his ups and downs during his career. But he got stuck in, worked hard and matured into a quality performer at international level, amassing 65 caps, as well as a feared scrummager. He could be a standout in the loose, too, and had a hand in most, if not all, of the tries notched in that amazing Heineken win over Racing Metro last term. A surge of excitement would always run through the crowd when Chunk took the ball up to cries of " 'Mon Chunk". Everyone will have their favourite vignettes from his career.
While it would not be particularly difficult to discern subtle differences between Chunk and Mossy in terms of physique, there was the same integrity about the two of them, the same honesty in their approach. It is difficult to be flashy in the front row. And maybe fewer folk want your autograph. But Chunk was much loved and we will miss him desperately. Undoubtedly there are a few more aesthetically pleasing household ornaments around than a cast of the great man's ear. But this new club trophy represents the qualities that we want to see in Edinburgh Rugby players. It is fitting that it is the supporters, who held him in such high regard, who will decide who the recipient should be. The first name on the ear richly deserves it.
Rumour has it that he might return to his roots in retirement. If so, there may yet be a chance to see the great man in action at the Pennypit for a few seasons yet. And also among the eight who are moving on this summer is Netani, who put in a typically barnstorming performance of the sort that we have seen so rarely this term. He picked up the Man of the Match award this evening and will prove a major irritation for the Embra men when he turns out for the Newporters. He, too, has given us a lot of fun in his rather shorter Edinburgh career.
But, boy, was this a frustrating evening. As the rain poured down, Edinburgh started it by chucking away a cheap score on four minutes and ended it on the defensive with the game still in the balance. In the middle of all that, they had a purple patch in the second quarter and should have been sailing over the horizon long before no-side when they'd stretched the lead to 21 with less than half an hour to go. But they flipped from calm control to panic mode in a trice, conceding two awful tries in two minutes around the hour to set up a climax that was far too close for comfort.
Awful Edinburgh play at the back of the scrum gifted Newport the ball early on and stand off Steffan Jones, who has impressed in these fixtures in the past, raced away for the opening try off Faletau's run, Prydie converting.
Playing into the swirling wind, Edinburgh struggled at first in the difficult conditions, but eventually started to get a bit of field position. They put a kickable penalty into touch and drove close to the enemy line. The ball was shipped to Harry Leonard, who spotted an enormous gap behind the defence and launched a bomb to the corner for Tonks to gather and scoot round to the posts for the home side's opener, converted by Laidlaw to tie the game up on 12 minutes.
It wasn't long before the Embra Ultras were on their feet once more, as quickfire Edinburgh phases started to stretch the visiting defence. This time it was Laidlaw who spotted a gap beside the breakdown wreckage on the goal line and nipped over for an alert score, though he missed the extras. 12-7 at the end of the first quarter. The returning de Luca looked particularly frisky in a back division that was performing well in the May monsoon.
Shortly after Francis had come on for the injured Scott in midfield, the Gunners built some fairly ponderous looking phases in the enemy red zone. It seemed to be going nowhere until Netani took the ball up, powering through the first line of defence and then eluded tacklers in typical fashion to cross on 24 minutes. Laidlaw's conversion took the lead to 19-7 and one felt that this had the makings of a big win.
Two Laidlaw penalties to one by Prydie took the score at the half to 25-10 Edinburgh. A comfortable lead, one would have thought, particularly as the capital men had looked in total control the longer the half went on.
And although the Newporters started the second period much better than they'd finished the first, two Laidlaw penalties around 50 minutes reallty should have killed this thing off and set up the search for the bonus point try. But it didn't.
Firstly, Lydiate found an enormous gap in the Edinburgh defence and sailed through untouched for a converted try on 63 minutes. Two minutes later, an awful telegraphed pass that everyone in the stadium could see would go horribly wrong fell into Prydie's hands and the winger raced away to score from distance. His own conversion cut the lead to 31-24 and Newport were still, unbelievably, in with a shout with 15 minutes to go despite having created very little throughout.
But even though an uncharacteristic missed penalty from Laidlaw kept things interesting, the Gunners dug in and held out for what was only their seventh win of a distinctly underwhelming season. Time - hopefully not too much of it - will tell who will be doing the coaching around here next term. They will have a solid base on which to build and the Embra tifosi should have rather more to shout about in season 2013/14. But they will have to do it without Chunk.
Somehow, it just won't be the same.