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Under-fire Blues men shot down by Gunners; Pressure mounting for crisis side.

Byline: Andy Howell

WELSH involvement in the Celtic Cup ended when Cardiff Blues were shot down by Edinburgh Gunners - a major blow after the promising way in which most of Wales' regional teams had started their first season of competition.

The big shock of quarter-final weekend wasn't the Blues coming up short but the Scarlets bowing out at home to Irish province Connacht.

Blues coach David Young headed to Edinburgh under unfair pressure with some fans and pundits already sticking the boot in after just three matches.

Even chairman Peter Thomas spoke out, although his veiled threat to the region's squad to shape up or ship out was aimed at the players, and not former Wales captain Young.

What Young needs is time. The trouble is you don't get much today, whether it is in rugby or soccer.

People want instant success and too often take the soft option of getting rid of the perceived culprit to appease the critics.

A quick fix at Cardiff is unlikely to work and would be a drastic measure, especially as the triple British Lions prop has been unable to put his first-choice XV on the field because of injuries, suspensions and World Cup calls.

The Blues were without 14 players in Edinburgh and the list soon got longer with inspirational flanker Dan Baugh damaging his left leg, prop Ken Fourie his right thigh, hooker and acting captain Andrew Lewis limping off with shin trouble and utility back wing Nick Walne joining him as the clock counted down.

Suffering more casualties was the last thing Young needed as he attempts to fend off the snipers until the injury list shortens and their World Cup five - Martyn Williams, Iestyn Harris, Rhys Williams, Tom Shanklin and Heino Senekal - return.

Not only Young but the rest of the management team, even chief executive Robert Norster who rarely comes off the fence, know a victory is a necessity.

Irish province Leinster, who have also been hit hard by the World Cup, could offer respite on Friday in the Celtic League, but the Blues only have one other fixture they will be favourites for - against the Dragons - before the Heineken Cup kicks off in December.

For the Scarlets, the Ospreys, Ulster and Munster are all lining up to inflict more pain on the Blues in the next few weeks.

Some people won't have any sympathy, pointing to the fact Cardiff, along with Llanelli, insisted on standing alone. This stance created resentment and unrest elsewhere, although it must be said Llanelli have embraced the regional concept.

Interestingly, there is a growing school of thought in Welsh rugby circles that the Blues and the Dragons ought to unite and become the Blue Dragons, reviving memories of the professional rugby league team that once played in South Wales.

The argument is neither of the East Walian teams has the squad to compete in Europe, the willpower or the money to bring in major reinforcements.

And, with the Celtic Warriors intent on spreading east to represent all the South Wales valleys, it might not be such a bad idea.

With two adequate stadiums in Cardiff Arms Park and Rodney Parade, as well as the Millennium Stadium to call on if they got really big crowds, excellent travel links and potentially huge support, the two cities combining would be a mouth-watering prospect.

A Blue Dragons/City Dockers combination would certainly have sunk the Gunners. In fairness to the Blues - Peter Thomas take note - they gave it everything in Edinburgh. One could not question their commitment.

As Young pointed out, they fell down because their finishing wasn't good enough, they kicked possession away badly, turned the ball over too often and missed tackles.

Remarkably, Edinburgh crossed twice despite being a man down after having centre Marcus Di Rollo sin-binned for not releasing. It could only happen to the Blues.

Outside-half Nicky Robinson kicked long, Gunners full-back Derrick Lee fended off Craig Morgan and set off on a run that ended with man-of-the-match Todd Blackadder and outside-half Brendan Laney combining to send prop Allan Jacobsen over.

Laney converted and they were a point behind. Less than four minutes later there was another turnover and another try.

Blues scrum-half Ryan Powell broke away and it looked like a score was on the cards. But a thumping tackle from Lee stopped him, Edinburgh dislodged the ball seconds later and spun it wide in their own 22.

Tom Phillip and left wing Hugo Southwell exchanged passes before impressive centre Philip touched down to give them a 19-13 lead at the interval.

It was a surprise turnaround after the manner in which the Blues had dominated the opening quarter, racing into a 10-0 courtesy of a try from Fourie and conversion and penalty from Robinson.

Edinburgh did not have a sniff until the 24th minute when crowd favourite Simon Webster, Philip and Laney (twice) all played prominent parts in the build-up to Di Rollo's great try.

Robinson reduced the half-time deficit to three points with a 57th minute penalty, but Edinburgh took control as injuries and that old Cardiff favourite - the sin-bin - troubled the Blues again.

The Scots had the confidence to put a penalty into a corner rather than go for goal, former All Blacks captain Blackadder's decision paying off as replacement prop Joel Brannigan was driven over.

Then Morgan, surely a victim of mistaken identity as Powell appeared to be the offender during a flare-up, and debut-making Wales hooker Gareth Williams, on as a replacement, were sin-binned within the space of two minutes.
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 6, 2003
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