Edinburgh still believe Champions Cup is in reach

Andries Strauss expects a tough match against the Dragons in Newport. Picture: SNS/SRU
Andries Strauss expects a tough match against the Dragons in Newport. Picture: SNS/SRU
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EDINBURGH’S players and coaches set twin goals at the start of the season. They wanted to win the European Challenge Cup and finish in the top six of the Guinness Pro12 to ensure their place in next season’s Champions Cup. They fell at the final hurdle in Europe last weekend and they are currently playing catch-up in the league, one point behind the Scarlets who appear to have the easier run to the finishing tape with a home tie against the Blues on Sunday followed by Treviso on the road next weekend.

For their part, Edinburgh must travel to Rodney Parade this evening where the Dragons have been licking the wounds inflicted upon them by the very same opposition in a one-sided Challenge Cup semi-final when Edinburgh ran in five tries. No one expects the Welsh region to roll over again, least of all Andries Strauss who lines up alongside Sam Beard in Edinburgh’s midfield.

“It was a different position, it was a semi-final, a one-off game and there was a lot of emotion involved in that,” says the South African centre. “I suppose we can take a lot of positives from that match, we put a good score on them but that’s not to say it is going to easy this weekend coming.

“They are a different team at home, they have beaten a couple of the top sides at home and we have a tough challenge ahead of us. Although we have taken a lot of positives from that match, it’s a new game this weekend and we will have to start from fresh.”

The Edinburgh centre’s brother Richardt has been capped by Ireland at hooker and makes his return from injury for Leinster against Treviso this evening. The older of the two at 31, Andries Strauss can boast one appearance in Springbok colours, albeit in a non-international fixture against the Barbarians.

In the continued absence of the injured Matt Scott, the South African import was always likely to start this evening’s game. Skipper Mike Coman misses out with a head injury so Stuart McInally leads the team from the third row of the scrum in his stead and Cornell du Preez is retained at No 8. Scotland breakaway David Denton has yet to resume training after suffering a head injury against Munster three weeks ago, which is a worry.

Elsewhere, full-back Jack Cuthbert gets a recall following an injury to Greig Tonks while stand-off Phil Burleigh will try to bury some demons from that Challenge Cup final, where everything he kicked seemed to fall for Tom May or Charlie Sharples, who were grateful for the opportunity to show their pace. Lining up against Burleigh this evening will be the experienced Jason Tovey who has the ability to give any defence a headache on his day.

Even leading up to the cup final most players cited a top six league finish as their main goal and Struass is happy to concur.

“That was our main goal,” Strauss agrees, “to end up in the top six and compete in the European [Challenge Cup] and we had a goal to win it. We got close, which was good, but I don’t think getting close in the top six is good enough for us this season. We have to make the top six spot and, in order to do that, we need two good results and we need some other results to go our way.

“If we look back at the season I think there were a couple of games that we should have won but we didn’t. Look back to our second game to Connacht here which we lost in the last couple of minutes to a couple of stupid penalties. That was right at the beginning of the season and you don’t expect that to come back and bite you like it is.

“We lost a couple of games that we shouldn’t have lost and we won a couple of games that people didn’t give us a chance to win so I think that evens things out. We are a one or two points below the log at the moment but we are right in with a chance to finish top six.

“We need a couple of results to go our way. We need bonus points and we need the Scarlets not to get bonus points. It is not a clear picture, a lot of things can happen in the next two weeks. The thing for us is to focus on what we have to do and not rely upon anything else and not let anything else distract us from the goal that we have.”

Strauss may need to call in a favour from his younger brother in that final fixture against Leinster if Edinburgh are to fulfil at least one of their twin goals this season.