Salford 16-24 Harlequins: Spelling out the magic
A BRILLIANT sunny day saw Murrayfield at its best for the visit of the Super League's Magic Weekend and whatever reservations anyone has about rugby league, no-one can argue with the concept of summer rugby. Any worries about the condition of the pitch were quickly dispelled as the turf resembled something that Stephen Henry would have been happy to play on.
A crowd of 29,627 watched the day's entertainment despite, rather than because, of the presence of Keith "Cheggers" Chegwin as one of the day's hosts.
The fans arrived in Edinburgh determined to enjoy themselves and pretty much succeeded on all available evidence. Equally obvious was the Super League's commitment to making the day a success as the whole event was marketed with panache.
There were fireworks, naturally, dancing girls and a live band that was worth the admission price alone. There were also any number of fans sporting kilts although it seems unlikely that many of them were Scots, with the exception of Gavin Hastings who teamed up with league legend Paul Sculthorpe to plug the Wooden Spoon charity in the half time break.
Obviously the Magic Weekend is as much about spreading the gospel of 13-man rugby outside its traditional north-west heartland and the evangelists have had some success. In addition to the Catalan Dragons in Perpignan, the Celtic Crusaders play out of Bridgend in Wales and the Championship (one division below Super League) boasts a team in Gateshead and another in Toulouse.
For all that the Crusaders have yet to win a match this season and their fortunes are unlikely to change with a tough tie against Huddersfieldtomorrow. The last Magic Weekend was held in Cardiff last year partly to introduce the Crusaders to Super League fans but it doesn't seem likely that Scotland will boast a franchise any time soon.
The action on the field was fast and furious and some of the handling skills still put union players to shame as the number of unforced errors could be counted on the fingers of one hand. When you consider that the league players make something like three times as many tackles as their 15-man equivalents that statistic becomes all the more surprising. They are helped by having rolling substitutions, 12 changes allowed by each team in the course of a match, an innovation that union seems certain to adopt.
Quins replacement prop forward Tony Clubb scored the best try of the opening match. After stepping out of one tackle, the big fella sent Salford's full-back John Wilshere the wrong way with some nifty footwork before powering over the line and emerging like the Incredible Hulk with his shirt all but ripped from his back.
Salford have found wins hard to come by this season but their kicking game caused Quins trouble in the first half. Their first two tries were the result of grubber kicks on the fifth tackle.
The third quarter remained scoreless but when the breakthrough try came it was Harlequins who grabbed it. This time David Howell picked his angle off the left wing and was unstoppable from five yards. Purdham again made good the extras and the Quins supporters, bathed in sunshine in the East Stand, found their voices.
Robbie Paul, a former Union international with England in another life, came close to pulling one try back but his knee hit the touchline in the act of scoring. Stefan Ratchford eventually claimed Salford's third try of the day but it came too late because Quins' Luke Dorn had already taken advantage of some tired tackling to drive his way over from 20 yards out. Purdham converted to claim a 100 per cent record with the boot on what was a successful day – and not just for him.