THERE is an old tradition, still maintained in some parts of the Highlands, that you never hurry a man to his grave. Instead the hearse purposefully takes a roundabout route to the final burial place as a mark of respect to the deceased.
Wherever he is heading, Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley, below, has looked like the walking dead after watching his side fall flat on their face time after time. His side were much improved on Friday against Ulster, good line speed, determined effort throughout and they scored two tries… and Edinburgh still lost by a margin of 25 points.
The Irish coach never offers too much of himself to the media but, in recent weeks, his natural reticence has been accompanied by something like bewilderment. When put on the spot, Bradley has struggled to come up with exactly why his team has been so poor, other than the vast accumulation of individual errors by his players. He doesn’t know what is wrong so he very obviously hasn’t the first idea how to fix it.
He is in good company, because Edinburgh have been serial under-performers from the time Frank Hadden ruled the roost. When he left the capital, Todd Blackadder admitted defeat because even the former All Black skipper has failed to drill any consistency into the club. Only under Andy Robinson did they thrive in the league, with a fourth place followed by a runners-up spot in 2009 that remains the club’s best showing to date.
After Friday’s loss to leaders Ulster, the club have now suffered seven straight losses. They are two from ten for the season in all competitions, they huddle 11th in the RaboDirect Pro12 and, even before the loss to Ulster, Edinburgh had slipped to 32nd in the Eurorugby.com rankings. In fact, there are only four teams in Europe that are rated lower than the capital club, despite a healthy playing budget of £4.2 million that is comparable with many in England’s Aviva Premiership.
As if that wasn’t enough, Edinburgh’s misery has been compounded by Glasgow’s bright start to the league, with the Warriors notching up their sixth successive RaboDirect victory on Friday against the Dragons; a club record for consecutive wins in one season. It was typical Glasgow fare, none too flashy, hard-earned through hard work and none the worse for that. Critics will point out that Gregor Townsend’s team has had an easy time of it in the league, avoiding the big Irish clubs in recent weeks, while picking off the likes of Connacht, the Dragons and the twin Italian teams.
They have a point. Edinburgh need a little luck but Glasgow get all that’s going. They nosed past Treviso last weekend thanks to two Tommy Seymour tries, both of which owed something to good fortune. The Rabo cards have fallen nicely for Glasgow but perhaps they deserve their good fortune since Edinburgh monopolised it last season and ultimately luck has nothing to do with league results over the term.
It is difficult for an outsider to comment on the inner workings of the Edinburgh squad but, from the sidelines, there appears to be a shortage of leaders on the field. There is talk of cliques within the capital squad and, if that much is speculation, we can claim with some certainty that the Glasgow boys are a much tighter unit than their Edinburgh counterparts because Ryan Grant said as much after moving down the M8 a couple of years back.
The fact is that both teams retain their distinctive cultures, which is a good thing for club identity, although both could take lessons from the other. Glasgow would benefit by adding a splash of Edinburgh’s attacking verve and perhaps when Sean Maitland arrives that will happen.
For their part, Edinburgh need to build from the bottom up as Glasgow have. Whatever else Sean Lineen achieved at Glasgow, he left a culture of hard work, commitment and a total intolerance of egos that every successful side shares. Edinburgh need firm foundations before they start building ivory towers. When things go wrong, good teams go back to their basics, but Edinburgh don’t have the fundamentals to fall back on because, to date, their scrum, lineout and restarts have been poor and their mauling game almost non-existent.
Last year’s Heineken Cup run owed something to good fortune but Edinburgh also played some clever, calculating rugby, notably against Toulouse. In that quarter-final the club shifted away from their cavalier attacking traditions to play a studied, varied and tactically astute match by constantly changing the point of attack. They can do it when the mood takes them.
Bradley’s task is not to produce a winning team, whatever anyone says. Any coach’s task is to get his team performing at, or close to, their full potential each and every time they take to the field. We have seen how good Edinburgh can be and it is light years away from the stuff they are serving up this season. Instead the cream of Scotland’s young players – David Denton, Grant Gilchrist, Stuart McInally, Matt Scott and Tom Brown – are learning new ways to lose rugby matches each and every weekend.
Bradley would never be hurried to his grave in the Highlands but the SRU boss Mark Dodson hails from Manchester where they do things a little differently. I’d hazard a guess that the Irishman has until Christmas to sort out the shambles before Sean Lineen is handed the job in a caretaker capacity.