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PLENTY OF PERSPIRATION, NOT ENOUGH INSPIRATION

Glasgow Warriors: 29 (24) Edinburgh:19 (14)



I don't know about you, but I have all of a sudden discovered that I have always had a soft spot for cuddly Kiwi coach Warren Gatland.  The Lions supremo has duly rewarded Scotland's improved performances since the World Cup with eight Scots selected in the British and Irish Lions' touring party for the forthcoming series in South Africa.  The last time so many got on the plane was 1989.  And we all know what they got up to in 1990.

When I saw nice guy Chris Harris' name on the squad list, I was almost overwhelmed with strong emotions, I don't mind admitting.  That was, in part, because his is a wonderful story, having recovered from a ropey start in international colours to fight his way back to become arguably the most effective defensive centre in world rugby by dint of hard graft and no little skill.  Partly, too, because I had £15 on him to make the squad at 8-1 and am now in the advanced stages of planning my early retirement with the return on that investment. 

From a blue and burnt orange perspective, of course, there has been much rejoicing over our three Lions - Duhan van der Merwe, Rory Sutherland and Hamish Watson.  It genuinely is a privilege for any player to be selected at all and, to quote the great Jim Telfer, 'to win for the Lions in a Test match is the ultimate'. But he also said that 'you’ll not do it unless you put your bodies on the line.' Looking back on the different journeys that these three young men have been on to become Lions, like Harris, one thing they will not lack in South Africa is total commitment.  It is a joy to see them get this far and exciting to look ahead to what they can achieve. We are all immensely pround of them.

On the auspicious date of co-captain Pierre 'The Greatest' Schoeman's birthday, the Embramen faced Glasgow at Scotstoun  this evening in the 1872 Cup decider, despite continued international travel restrictions meaning that we probably have quite a few more of these to come before this season's out.  This was already ther fifth tussle in the last nine months.  To the mysterious strains of artifically generated crowd chants of 'Shoooo' on the telly, the remote Embra tifosi saw a strong Gunners outfit take to the artificial turf with the aspiration to continue where Benetton had left off last time out as the Italians gave the Warriors a bit of a horsing. But, this being a derby match, recent form, no matter how hopeless it may have been, would be no guide to what would transpire this evening as Big Bro visited Lil' Bro.

It was particularly good to see Stuart 'Rambo' McInally, understudying Scotland legend and all round handsome devil Dave Cherry this evening, return from an injury that probably did keep him out of the Lions squad. Future Scotland Captain Jamie (T) Ritchie at blindside must have come very close to selection himself.

On a gorgeous evening, Glasgow fielded a strong pack and a young back division full of promise.   Both of their Lions, Ali Price and Zander Fagerson, started.  If All Black legend Aaron Smith's endorsement is any guide, Price could well find himself the starting Lions half-back, while Fagerson Snr has all the skills to become one of those perennial Lions tourists, not least as he is still in short trousers in propping terms.

Appropriately, the Man of the Match award went to full back Cole Forbes at no-side.  It was the little touches of quality that Glasgow showed at the right times throughout that proved the difference in the match.  Those touches gave one hope that Glasgow can return to their swaggering best next season as the youngsters they have blooded this term have more gametime under their belts.  By contrast, the Gunners once again struggled to unlock a determined, physical defence. There was plenty of perspiration, but not enough inspiration to retain the 1872 for another year.

WP Nel was working his magic early, winning his first scrum penalty on three minutes. The Embramen had the best of the pressure in the early exchanges, yet coughed up an offside penalty during Glasgow's first foray into their half. First five-eighth Ross Thompson nailed the difficult kick for a 3-0 home lead on 11 minutes. Steyn forced 'Big' Bill Mata to hold on in the tackle immediately afterwards and Thompson knocked the ball deep into the Embra 22. After a couple of quick phases, a short ball from Price found Forbes running a brilliant inside line at pace to dive over for a great try - 10-0 Warriors on 15 minutes.

A foolish penalty given away by Fraser Brown as a result of a bit of off the ball shenanigans gave the visitors an atacking chance right away.  Physicality and niggle were plentiful already in this match.  The Warriors gave away multiple penalties under pressure in their own 22 and duly got a bit of a wigging from referee Jones.  Inevitably, with the defence standing off a little, Dave Cherry crossed off the back of a rumbling maul to pull seven points back at the end of quarter one.

But Glasgow hit back immediately in what was shaping up to be a bit of a shoot out.  Brown redeemed himself by turning over Damien Hoyland fielding a towering Thompson restart.  The Warriors then moved the ball quickly and Lokotui crossed for his third try for Glasgow - 17-7 on 23 minutes.

The Embramen were struggling to get over the gainline against the linespeed of the home defence.  But they were frequently rescued by the Warriors giving away penalties in defence.  Eventually Rob Harley, The Ginger Ninja, was carded for a particularly blatant maul penalty. Guess what?  The capital club kicked to the corner, rumbled a maul goalwards and birthday boy Schoeman looked like it was he who had notched the try before referee Jones could award a penalty try for a further Glasgow infringement.  17-14 on the half hour after tyro playmaker Nathan Chamnberlain slotted the wide conversion.  

Excitingly, Fraser Brown called a captain's challenge on 33 minutes for potential foul play by Mark Bennett, hitting a sprinting Price high with the shoulder. It looked like a red in the replays and the centre was duly - and rightly - dismissed.  Under another new experimental law, the Gunners would only be a man down for 20 minutes before Bennett could be replaced.  I disagree with this relaxation in principle but Edinburgh were in any case not made to pay immediately as Thompson's long range effort at goal drifted wide.  

With the Warriors pressing on the Gunners' line, this time it was their turn to make a captain's challenge.  Pyrgos grappled Kebble, who elbowed the veteran half-back in the face. The prop didn't really look like he meant to do it, but it was a second red, just as Harley had returned to the field after his yellow. Nevertheless, Fraser Brown managed to cross after repeated close in phases in injury time, but the conversion attempt was delayed by another captain's challenge as this time Grant Gilchrist asked TMO Hollie Davidson to check possible Glasgow obstruction on Ritchie.  It was a crucial call, but allowing the try to stand looked like the right decision.

At the break Glasgow, having played with the wind at their backs, enjoyed a handy 24-14 advantage.  They had definitely upped their game since the Italian reverse, but at times their physicality had spilled over into counterproductive ill discipline.  Brown was certainly setting a battling lead to his pack, though.  The callow Thompson had steered his attack beautifully and both Steyn and Forbes looked dangerous at times.  The Gunners huffed and puffed, but had fed off home errors rather than really threatening themselves.  With a 10 minute power play and wind advantage to come in the second period, though, they had every chance to pull this one back.

The second half began with a distressing injury to Glasgow's Scott Cummings, getting his head caught on the wrong side in the tackle, former Lion Richie Gray replacing him.  In the early exchanges, there were little glimpses of the old Glasgow.  The odd cute kick behind the defence from Thompson here, a quickfire break down the wing there.  Pace in attack overall.  It paid off on 48 minutes as a looping pass from Price put Steyn over in the corner for a 29-14 lead.

The visiting pack hit back in agricultural fashion with a third touchdown off a close in maul, this time it was Rambo detaching from a maul, skipping up the short side to cross untouched and mark his return to action with a five pointer on 55 minutes to narrow the gap to 29-19. And on the hour, in a huge moment in defence, Eroni Sau won a breakdown penalty on his own line to bring to an end a long period of Warrior pressure in the enemy red zone.  The Embramen were hanging in there.

The Gunners enjoyed a period of pressure in the Glasgow 22.  McInally again broke from a driving maul and crossed, but Ratu Tagive held the ball up brilliantly to save the day.  Further excitement came from this match notching the hat-trick of new law variations with the drop out from their own tryline as a result. Pete Horne knocked the ball to halfway, but a Glasgow penalty saw Chamberlain kick to the corner to set up another Edinburgh maul.  As the clock ticked down, time and heroic Glasgow defence were frustrating the Gunners' attack and the short-handed Warriors ran out deserved 29-19 visitors to wrest back the 1872 Cup for the first time in three years.

The next inter-city clash takes place further east next weekend as the Warriors visit BT Murrayfield. 

 

EDINBURGH JUST NOT AT THE RACES

Racing 92: 56 (20) Edinburgh: 3 (3)

When the Gunners play Racing 92, it's always a great excuse to look back at that amazing, Greeg-inspired 48-47 victory at Murrayfield in the Heineken in 2011.  It was, astonishingly, not televised live, but shaky film of the encounter can still be found on YouTube. Both sides looked like they were dead and buried at times during that match, but both fought back, playing exhilarating rugby.  When all hope looked to be lost, they both gave it a lash with no fear.  In the end, it was the Embramen who sneaked it.  There are still a few elder statesmen left from that amazing time, including Grant 'Gilcho' Gilchrist, Henri Chavency and the great Juan Imhoff.  

One Racingman who was not on the carpet in the futuristic Paris La Defense Arena this afternoon was Finn Russell, suspended after his red card during Scotland's recent victory over France.  Last year's losing finalists nonetheless fielded their usual star-studded outfit.  Particularly with

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80 MINUTES OF TERROR

Edinburgh: 10 (3) Munster: 22 (17)

On Wednesday night, many watched the successful landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars. It is quite a thought that NASA can design a machine that, given the 11 minutes it takes for radio signals to reach Earth, carried out a series of complex manoeuvres, including surviving the 'Seven Minutes Of Terror' as it decelerated from 12,000 miles per hour in the Martian atmosphere, to land autonomously in a tiny target area surrounded by potential hazards over 208 million miles away.  That is a challenging task that requires incredible accuracy and perfect execution.

Sadly, these were qualities that were lacking in Edinburgh's display as Munster's control in attack, set piece and defence saw the Conference B leaders comfortably home at BT Murrayfield this evening. The Gunners had plenty of chances but they just could not take them.  In a match where they were struggling up front for most of the time, they did not have the gumption to vary their play when they were getting

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