EDINBURGH captain Greig Laidlaw says that the main lesson his team took from their 31-14 defeat in Perpignan in October is that the French giants are eminently beatable.
Although he is expecting an almighty tussle when the sides meet again at Murrayfield on Saturday, he is certain the home side can pick up the win they need to keep their Heineken Cup dream alive.
Laidlaw knows that progress to the last eight of European club rugby’s flagship competition (for the time being at least) is a long shot, but even qualification for the second-tier Amlin Cup would be a cause for celebration according to the feisty scrum-half.
With one league point fewer in Pool Six, Perpignan are in a similar situation to Edinburgh but rumours from the south of France that they are planning to rest a raft of frontline players for Saturday’s match – including former Edinburgh and current Scotland star Al Strokosch – suggest that the battle to improve Perpignan’s current lowly standing of 11th in French Top 14 is the priority.
“Perpignan have got a good squad. Whatever team comes across it will be a tough match for us. They are probably out of the Heineken Cup but maybe that makes them a little bit more dangerous. They have been struggling in the top 14 so they might just get a bit of release. They are probably out of the tournament, so they could just play with a bit more freedom,” said Laidlaw.
“We need to be on guard. We just need to concentrate on ourselves. If we can get our game right then I believe we will give ourselves the best chance of winning the game.’
“We were very frustrated [to lose over there]. It was a tough one to take. But credit to Perpignan because they came back. They are a tough side to beat, especially at home. They started with a massive pack and then pretty much swapped them and more massive men came on. That’s where the battle will be this week. It will be won up front, so the boys need to get that right to give us a platform to play and, hopefully, move them around the park.”
Laidlaw is in no doubt that keeping the error count to an absolute minimum will be key if Edinburgh are to pick up a famous win this weekend. The Scottish side had the upper hand against their French opponents for 40 minutes in the first match, and led 7-3 at the break thanks to a Tim Visser try, but were punished mercilessly for loose kicking and tackling in the second half as Perpignan ran away with a bonus-point victory.
“If you make mistakes, even slight mistakes, against a team like Perpignan, then they have a couple of game breakers in the backs who will cut you right open. We were in the lead at half-time and just past half-time, in a tough place to win a game of rugby, and I think it was just two mistakes we made and they scored two tries and the game was over,” recalled Laidlaw.
“They can still do that here. It is just a rectangle pitch with posts and it doesn’t really matter where it is. We need to keep our mistakes to a minimum and, if we do that, I think we will put ourselves in a position to go on and win the game.’
“This is the tournament we want to play in and everyone in the club wants to be associated with,” he continued.
“It is a massive game for us and, hopefully, we will get a big crowd out to support us. If we win this game, if we get to put ourselves in a good position and push on later in the game, that would set us up to go over and play Munster [a week on Sunday] and still be in the mix to go through.
“If it ends up with us in the Amlin, then that is a good competition, too. If that is the route we went down I would definitely want to go as far as possible in that tournament.”
Edinburgh added recent South African recruit Carl Bezuidenhout to their list of players registered to play in the Heineken Cup yesterday, but it seems unlikely that the 27-year-old stand-off will be handed the No 10 jersey for Saturday’s crucial game, given that he arrived in the capital less than two weeks ago and has yet to have any game time with his new side. It is, however, entirely conceivable that he will feature off the bench.
Greig Tonks looks certain to carry on at stand-off in the short term, and Laidlaw says he has been impressed with how his new half-back partner has adapted to the switch from full-back.
“He is a good communicator so I am finding it quite easy to play with him. He is sticking to the gameplan, which is why he has been selected. He has a big boot on him and he gets us out of trouble a lot of times, and he is a clever player as well. He won’t kick under pressure, he’ll just play. In the long run, it will be good for his development to be able to play at 10 as well as 15,” said Laidlaw. “I really feel we are going in the right direction. Last year we struggled big time but you’re starting to see, especially at home, that we are becoming a force. Teams don’t like coming here.
“Traditionally, in the Heineken Cup, we have done pretty well against French sides. If you look at Edinburgh’s history, we have put away Racing Metro 92, Toulouse, Stade Francais and Perpignan in the recent past. French teams don’t like coming here and we need to make sure they have that feeling this weekend.
“The club is a much better place this year. It is far more organised on the field and players understand their roles a lot better. We have systems to stick to and everyone is on the same wavelength. We are a much better team this year and I think the results show that. And I’m sure they will continue going that way for the rest of the season,” concluded the skipper.