Last Saturday saw a few upsets in the Heineken Cup but only at Murrayfield did spectators’ jaws gape as wide as gulping fish when Edinburgh recorded just their second win of the season – over two-time European Champions Munster.
The men in red may be a shadow of the force that last tasted European glory in 2008 but they can still raise a head of steam. They beat Leinster two weeks ago just to prove it and yet Edinburgh were worthy winners.
The question is, after several years of woeful under-performance, have Edinburgh finally turned the corner? The answer is, don’t look at their last game, look to the next one.
It is a tough task today, away at Perpignan, who have won five out of nine in the French Top 14 to date, including recent victories over third-placed Toulouse and Montpellier, who are one place above them.
Hopefully, this afternoon’s match will have that distinctive European flavour about it because, according to Dougie Fife, last Saturday’s encounter against Munster was just another game. “We didn’t look at it like a Heineken Cup tie, we just looked at it as the next game,” says the winger. “It could have been a league game for all we knew. But, now that we’ve won that game, everyone is delighted.
“But we need to back it up. It’s not a great win until we back it up. In the Heineken Cup if you win your home games you never know what can happen. A couple of years ago we had a good run, so fingers crossed. If we can get a good result in France, anything could happen.”
Fife is an engaging character who has risen without much fanfare to claim a place in Edinburgh’s starting line-up. He is a product of Firrhill High School on Edinburgh’s south side, where he played football until he was dragged down to Boroughmuir for mini rugby when his friend’s dad was coaching. He stayed there for several years and prospered before he got a phone call from Currie coach Ally Donaldson, who “tapped him up”, as football agents would have it, and persuaded him to go to Malleny Park.
“I’ve never lost to Boroughmuir since,” Fife says to back up his decision, although Currie could do with some of his many qualities right now.
Fife is a versatile back, equally happy at wing, full-back or at outside centre. The then Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley gave him his first professional start two seasons ago against the Ospreys and Fife repaid that faith with a try and a man-of-the-match performance. He followed it up with two tries against Munster in last year’s Heineken Cup tie at Murrayfield. Fife is reliable under the high ball, he employs a swerve rather than a side-step to beat a man and, once he finds space, is rarely chased down.
“Me and Viss [Tim Visser] have a good wee rivalry going,” says the Scot. “He is possibly an inch quicker but there’s not much in it.”
Fife’s former club coach Donaldson thinks his protégé could end up playing international rugby at No.13 outside another former Currie player, Matt Scott. The two were born within a month of each other, played age-grade rugby against each other and remain good mates. The pair have been at Edinburgh for a few years now and the two of them have witnessed wholesale changes to the club over the last few months.
“There has been a change of coaches,” Fife says. New boss Alan Solomons called one player at 8.30am simply because he thought what he had to say couldn’t wait.
Fife adds: “We’ve brought in a lot of new players, it’s just been a very positive start, maybe not results-wise, but in the mood in the camp. We have a new gameplan and I feel that every game we’ve got better. Cardiff Blues was one of our best games and we stepped it up again against Munster. Training is getting better and everyone knows the rules a bit more each week and I think it will all click soon and we get a few wins in a row.
“Omar [Mouneimne, assistant coach] and Alan want us to have the mindset of strangling teams, playing with the ball where we want to play with it and letting them have the ball where we want them to have it. We don’t want to give them the ball in our half so we kick down there and just strangle them in their own half and, when they make an error, we pounce on that.
“We obviously have the freedom to play when we get around the ten-metre line area but we obviously don’t want to take any shots in our own half because it gives them the opportunity for points.
“We used to run everything but you just don’t get away with that in modern rugby. Defences are on top. Last year it didn’t work for us and we had to change something. It is going to take while to get used to but I think it has started to click.”
It may be a little early to hang out the bunting just yet but, with just two teams to fly the professional flag, Scottish rugby needs Edinburgh firing live ammunition rather than blanks and Fife is just one of a host of talented young backs coming through their ranks.
Scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne looks the part, Tom Brown won a cap in Australia last year but is only now returning from injury, Harry Leonard is improving with every game and Greig Tonks made one Test appearance this summer just gone. Jamie Farndale is still a teenager but is worth keeping an eye on and, of course, Matt Scott’s international appearances match his 23 years.
All the above are, like Fife, younger than 25, and all of them promise, like Fife, that Edinburgh’s near future will be rosier than their recent past – whatever happens in Perpignan this afternoon.