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Reports & Features

I AM THE CAPTAIN OF MY SOUL

Munster: 20 (7) Edinburgh Rugby: 16 (6)



'It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.'

- William Ernest Henley

The final stanza from 'Invictus', which was also the title of the film of how Nelson Mandela inspired the Springboks' World Cup victory in 1995, laying the foundations for the emergence of the Rainbow Nation.  It was a poem that had helped Mandela himself during his Long Walk To Freedom.

It is a poem about accepting responsibility, no matter how unfair life may be. 

At Thomond Park in Limerick yesterday. Edinburgh's season came to an end. At one of European rugby's most intimidating venues, they were arguably the better team, yet came off second best at full time.  Two lineout errors sandwiching a moment of sublime skill from Munster's departing Simon Zebo, did for them. 

Three moments; two chances given, one not taken.  That was the difference.

In some ways, it was a cruel end to an intriguing match.  In injury time, the Gunners had worked their way to an attacking lineout on the enemy 22.  In the final quarter, their forward power had put Munster under huge pressure, their superior fitness seeming to tell in the heat.  The home support could feel this one slipping away.  But somehow Munster managed to nick the ball, Murray nipped into touch and there was relief - and respect for the Embramen - all round.

For so many in the Edinburgh squad, playoff rugby is a new experience.  It is a rare team indeed that can enter this environment and succeed first time.  For most, failure precedes success.  it is in licking your wounds and fixing the little details that you get there in the end. 

The Gunners can look back on a season where they have taken a number of giant steps forward.  They have discovered consistency, having won as many games as the standout side in the PRO14 regular season, Glasgow Warriors, and beat them twice to secure the 1872 Cup.  They ran out only a hair's breadth behind Leinster and the Scarlets in Conference B.

'Jarvis' Cockers and his coaching team have built a dominating pack, based on the quality that was already there.  'Kitty' MacRae's defence is one of the meanest in the league.  And there are signs - such as Edinburgh's fine try yesterday - that Veteran Stand-Off Duncan' Hodgey' Hodge is starting to get some traction with a side that is looking increasingly good with ball in hand.

In the bread and butter of league rugby, the Embramen have developed an uncanny ability to edge tight matches.  They now win in situations when they would have lost in the past.  But in the pressure of knock out rugby, they remain prone to crucial lapses of concentration that make the difference between winning and losing.  We saw it in the disappointing home loss to the Blues in Europe; we saw it again at Thomond, where an overthrown lineout and a moment of confusion in defence were all that Munster needed to carve out the two tries that saw them home. 

Munster have been thare and done that; Edinburgh have not yet.  And it showed.

But that is by no means a criticism.  It is simply an acknowledgement of where this young squad are in their development.  Their next step is to learn how to 'keep a blue head' as the All Blacks put it.  When under extreme pressure, to maintain focus and execute.  That will come.

They were down by seven early on.  An overthrown lineout in their own 22 was snaffled by by Marshall at the tail, the openisde crashing over for a home lead.

But the Gunners kept their composure and narrowed the gap to 7-6 at the break, dominating territory and possession. They had carved out chances, but didn't take them.

Munster started the second period strongly, though, and were further ahead on 45 minutes.  A guddled ball in attack found its way to Zebo, who chipped behind the confused defence, gathered then set sail for the Edinburgh line.  Although his scoring pass to Earls on the wing was undoubtedly forward, it was a wonderfully conceived bit of heads up rugby. 14-6 Munster and this one might have run away from the visitors when Hanrahan stretched the lead to 17-6 with a penalty.

But, following an SHC penalty, the Gunners hit back with a try that Glasgow or the Scarlets would have been proud of.  It began with a storming run from deep by Bill Mata.  The ball was moved left and good hands from Gilchrist in a wide channel saw Blairhorn cut back and through the desperate defence at pace.  He was eventually caught on the 22, but Duhan 'The Beast From The East' van der Merwe cleared the tackle area quickly and replacement half back Fowles saw the gap and scooted through to cross for a wonderful try.  With the conversion, it was 17-16 and game on.

Hanrahan knocked over a late penalty and it looked like Munster would do what Munster do and run the clock down.  but the Embramen secured ball for a last hurrah, Weir knocking a penalty to the Munster 22 in injury time.  With the dominance of their pack, one would have backed them to drive a maul close to the line.  But Munster snaffled ball and it was that small margin that was to prove the difference. 

It's been a great season.  Better than I had dared hope. Next season will see greater challenges for this squad, not least in their return to Champions Cup rugby.  But there are a number of high quality operators heading for the capital.  The Gunners will be stronger as a result and well placed to kick on.

I can't wait.

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

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TAPADH LEIBH, HUGH DAN

Edinburgh Rugby: 20 (13) Ulster: 32 (19)

There was not a dry eye in the house at BT Murrayfield this evening as those present contemplated the end of an era.  I refer, of course, to the final occasion on which rugby legend Hugh Dan MacLennan would relate an Edinburgh Rugby match to their many followers in the Gaeltacht via BBC Alba's coverage - and, in passing, to many observers who do not have The Gaelic.

As someone who was brought up on Saturday evening reports of the shinty results on Radio Scotland, featuring John Willie Campbell and then Hugh Dan (I have a particular fondness for the mighty Cabers, or Comann Camanachd Cabar Feidh, to give them their Sunday name), I was overjoyed when the great man emerged as BBC Alba's rugby commentator.  And he has proved to be rather good at it.  He will be much missed. One hopes that the PRO14 high command will soon see the error of their ways and bring BBC Alba back into the fold at some point in the near future.

After last weekend's underwhelming

Read More About TAPADH LEIBH,