Interview: Allan Jacobsen, Edinburgh prop and Scotland international
Edinburgh’s players don’t make life easy for themselves but have the ability to beat anyone, Allan Jacobsen tells Iain Morrison
IN 1995 Scotland were victorious in Paris for the first time in 26 long years and Jim Telfer, scorer of the winning try way back in 1969, expressed his heartfelt relief that he would never again have to suffer that grainy black-and-white footage of his younger self diving over the French line in what looked like slow motion.
Edinburgh’s class of 2004 must harbour similar thoughts as the current capital squad stand on the brink of eclipsing their predecessors’ sad record as the only Scottish team to ever appear in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup. Eight years may not be a long wait for the second coming in biblical terms but sports fans and players alike are not noted for their patience and Edinburgh’s repeat performance is long overdue presuming, of course, they beat London Irish at Murrayfield today and secure their place in the last eight. According to one veteran of that 2004 triumph, the then Edinburgh squad assumed that they were on the cusp of greatness, or at least its close cousin, a regular spot in the Heineken quarters.
“We’d signed a few good players, it was a year or two after we’d got Todd [Blackadder] and Brendan [Laney]” says Allan “Chunk” Jacobsen, one of three survivors from 2004 who will start for Edinburgh this afternoon. “A few boys came back from down south like Scott Murray and we had a lot of good young players as well. I remember thinking at the time, right, we can kick on from here if we sign some more players, but it just never happened and I don’t know why. It was frustrating at the time and the next couple of seasons we were really poor.”
London Irish have nothing to play for today except pride but that was all the motivation that Gloucester and Connacht needed on Friday evening. With no chance of progress, the two underdogs still stunned the league leaders on both sides of the channel, beating Toulouse and Harlequins.
Pride will also be working for Edinburgh today. The club boasts a poor league record and Europe is the one place these players can salvage their season. While their form in Europe has surprised many, Jacobsen believes the Heineken campaign was kick-started by that first game against Irish, a rare victory on the road. “Year after year we’ve pretty much been out of it after three games, that’s been the reality for however many years,” says Jacobsen. “Winning the first game away from home [against London Irish] was just massive and winning at home [against Racing Metro] the week after and we’re in the driving seat. Once you get into that position you are just on a roll from there.
“We’re by no means the finished article, we’ve got lots of things to improve. Our set-piece attack hasn’t been the greatest, we’ve lost lots of lineouts and our scrum hasn’t been great. These are the building blocks. But we’re pretty good once we get into open rugby. We can attack, guys are scoring tries, we’ve got good individual runners. Our defence is sometimes awesome and sometimes it’s all over the place. If we can sort that all out, I think we’ll be a good team.”
Jacobsen can be largely exempted from any criticism. He is looking trim and as fit as he ever will, given the siren lure of the buffet table. His conditioning goes some way to explaining some outstanding performances. His showings against Racing were the equal of any prop in Europe. But, for the team as a whole, Heineken success has been a puzzle inside a conundrum wrapped up in a mystery. Jacobsen has listed amongst Edinburgh’s faults pretty much every tool deemed essential for Heineken success.
History suggests that you need a big, muscular front five and, instead, Edinburgh boasts a mobile but lightweight pack. Common sense says that experience is all, but Edinburgh won that first match with a 19-year-old stand-off. Everyone knows that you don’t give a team like Racing Metro a 24-point lead but Edinburgh made short work of reeling them in at Murrayfield. Reason insists that a good league showing is important for building confidence but Edinburgh have won four out of 13 in the RaboDirect Pro12.
Edinburgh have won their four Heineken matches by an average of three points, with the winning kicks in two of them coming as the referee checked his watch. No one can accuse the capital club of doing things the easy way and, if there is a suspicion that this side are concentrating on Europe to the detriment of the league, they would only be copying what the Irish provinces have done to good effect for the last decade.
Jacobsen insists that he is as confused as the next man by the club’s lowly league position but, in explaining their Heineken form, he points to the contribution from the club’s youngsters, who have come in and shaken the place up with a winning mentality and a hunger for success. “There is a buzz about the club and it’s brilliant,” he beams. “We’ve lost a lot of experienced players over the last few years. We’ve brought some good ones in but you could argue that a lot of players weren’t replaced like for like. A lot of young guys have come through and stepped up to the mark. I think that’s brilliant. I think the young guys have really proved themselves this year, there is a lot of hunger at the club.”
A win will be enough to see Michael Bradley’s side through to the knockout stages. Depending upon what happens in Cardiff today, Edinburgh could top the pool and land themselves a home quarter-final if they can claim a try bonus against Irish. They may need it. Eight years ago they lost their final pool game to Toulouse and had to play the same opposition in the quarter-finals. Now – depending on last night’s results – the seventh and eighth seeds look like facing the twin Irish giants of Leinster and Munster.
If Edinburgh finish second in Pool 2, for their quarter-final they will likely face a daunting trip to Limerick or Dublin, where the two hosts are well equipped to squeeze the life and legs out of Edinburgh’s mobile forwards. The bonus point is like a pebble in everyone’s shoe, a nagging reminder of the ultimate prize on offer despite the need to stay focused on winning first. “People are obviously thinking that,” says Jacobsen. “Everyone knows that but it’s a dangerous thing to get hung up on. We’re at home, if we play as well as we can, everything else will be OK, I reckon. If we start thinking we need to score four tries it can be dangerous.
“We knew back in 2004 that we could beat any team in our pool in the Heineken Cup and I’ve felt like that this whole campaign.”
Given what is at stake, Edinburgh should win today. Having got this far, the alternative is almost too painful to contemplate but there seems little prospect of this team doing so without throwing a little drama into proceedings. They wouldn’t want to stand accused of doing things the easy way.
• Edinburgh were forced into a late change yesterday when Nick de Luca failed to recover from a head knock. John Houston will take his place at inside centre.
Edinburgh: Paterson; Jones, Scott, Houston, Visser; Laidlaw (capt), M Blair; Jacobsen, Ford, Cross, Gilchrist, Cox, Denton, Grant, Talei. Subs: Walker, Traynor, Gilding, Lozada, McInally, Godman, Thompson, Tom Brown.
London Irish: Armitage; Ojo, Spratt, Hape, Thompstone; Jarvis, Hodgson; Corbisiero, Buckland, Halavatau, Sandford, Casey (capt), Garvey, Sisi, Gray. Subs: Blaney, Lahiff, Rautenbach, Kennedy, Evans, Joseph, Shingler, Samson.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland).
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