CONNACHT THE VICTORS IN AMAZING MATCH
Edinburgh Rugby: 19 (0) Connacht: 22 (16)
This is getting so painful I can hardly bear to watch.
Of late, Edinburgh seem to have made a habit of giving their opponents a head start with errors of devastating hopelessness, then throwing caution to the wind and roaring back to within touching distance in the second half. There was a fair bit of that against La Rochelle last Friday night. They looked like they were going to be blown away in the first period, then came back with some adventurous stuff.
It wasn't enough, mind, and composure and accuracy under pressure ultimately were the difference in that match. What the Gunners wouldn't give for a leader with the character of the estimable John Muldoon, Connacht's skipper who was such a factor in their surprising, yet exhilarating, title success last season.
They were at it again at Mon Repos this evening.
It was certainly a high octane start from both sides, with plenty of quickfire phases. But Duncan Weir TGB lost focus twice, failing to find touch with a penalty to the corner then missing a mid-range penalty attempt on three minutes. They were back on the attack in the enemy 22 immediately, but a promising set ended with a penalty for holding on. And they were then pinged for a breakdown penalty to Connacht on eight minutes. Crosbie made no mistake and it was 0-3 Connacht against the run of play. Same old same old, I'm afraid.
On 20 minutes, another example of why this club is where it is. A maul rumbled well to the 22 with late replacement No 8 Fihaki at the tail, Burleigh took the ball up and offloaded beautifully to Fowles. The impressive half-back fired a good pass to Weir with men outside, but the first five-eighth spilled ball forward. Some really promising stuff gone to waste with a lack of focus at the end. That's purely a confidence thing.
This match was being played at tremendous pace, but the Gunners' defence was keeping Connacht well under control. But the visitors edged further ahead with a long penalty from Crosbie on 26 minutes. The westies had taken the only two chances they'd been given so far.
They took the next too, on 29 minutes, an absolute peach of a pass from Marmion on the 22 put McKeon over untouched beneath the posts. There was a yawning gap in the defensive line, the result of a loss of concentration. 0-13 down and the Gunners were back in familiar territory.
Eventually, the Embramen forced a kickable penalty after good defensive work by Fowles but Weir knocked it wide. They then gave away a penalty themselves, which Connacht kicked to the home 22. While the Edinburgh defence held out, it was at the cost of another penalty and a warning for repeated infringements. Crosbie duly slotted his third penalty for a 0-16 advantage on 37 minutes.
That was the score at the break. The passes were sticking for the visitors, while Edinburgh's confidence was so low it was subterranean. It really showed.
After a period of inconsequential play following the restart, Crosbie knocked over another penalty for a breakdown offence on 49 minutes. 0-19 for Connacht and this match was slipping further away from the Gunners. They didn't really seem to have much idea as to how to turn it round either. On 51 minutes, one of their better players of the match, Phil Burleigh, threw a pass into touch with an Embra overlap outside him. Immediately afterwards, it took good defence by Scholes to force O'Halloran into a knock on with the Gunners' line beckoning.
A fine run saw Kiwi import Aki burst through the Edinburgh defence only to be hauled down close to the Gunners' line. The home defence held firm against repeated phases and drove Connacht back to the 22. Eventually, a high tackle penalty gave Crosbie another three pointer on the hour. 0-22 Connacht as the crowd were treated to the rare sight of Junior Raasolea coming off the bench.
On 63 minutes, off first phase ball, Edinburgh moved the ball well across field. Weir delayed his pass to Watson well, the openside taking the ball up at pace and offloading to the supporting Hoyland who was tackled just short. Gilchrist smashed close to the line then the ball was shipped to the narrow side. O'Halloran, in an offside position, was adjudged by referee Dan Jones to have denied Edinburgh a try for Bryce by catching the ball. He duly awarded a penalty try and a yellow for the Connacht full back. At last the Embramen were on the board at 7-22 with a power play to come.
The Gunners won a penalty shortly afterwards and kicked to the 22. After a maul rumbled forward, they probed close to the line before Hamish Watson spun and smashed through four defenders to touch down under the posts. Weir's conversion made it a 14-22 deficit and - astonishingly - Embra tails were up. Another Connacht infringement and this time, it was the westies who were getting the penalty warning.
Great offensive defence from the Embramen saw them clear from their 22 and then force Connacht into touch 10 metres from their own line to give the home side another good attacking platform. The Gunners pounded the enemy line with Gilchrist again putting in the hard yards. The ball was shipped to the left wing for Glenn Bryce to reach over. Weir missed the difficult effort from the corner, leaving the score 19-22 with six minutes left to run, the power play now over.
With the clock running down, Weir couldn't hold a horrible pass behind his back, giving Connacht a scrum on the Gunners' 10 metre line. Although the Embramen managed to win ball back and tried valiantly to play out of their own half, the visitors escaped with a narrow victory as Edinburgh's recent history repeated itself once again.