It has been a trying season for Edinburgh but experiencing the recent deadly earthquake in New Zealand has put rugby into perspective for Phil Burleigh.
The centre was back in his home city of Christchurch last month during the international break when a quake measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale hit, with two fatalities. It was the latest in a series of such events in that part of the world, with the worst being the 2011 disaster which killed 185 people.
“Every time I go back there seems to be a big earthquake. They might as well put a headline in the paper saying I’m coming,” said Burleigh.
“I was back last year and we had a 5.8. I was there for the one in 2010 as I hadn’t moved to the Highlanders by then but I wasn’t there for the big one in 2011 when there were a lot of tragic deaths. All the rest I’ve been there for unfortunately.
“The one last month was big, it lasted for about two and a half minutes but was quite silent whereas the other ones were quite loud and scary. I was at my parents, who live right by the beach and the tsunami sirens went off a few hours later and there was a lot of traffic on the road trying to get out. That was a different experience.
“It certainly puts rugby into perspective for sure. It’s a frightening thing and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
Burleigh is now looking ahead to tomorrow evening’s European Challenge Cup match against Stade Francais at BT Murrayfield and the opportunity to try again to inject momentum into a faltering season.
Back-to-back losses in Wales against Dragons and Ospreys have seen Edinburgh slump to tenth in the Guinness Pro12 table and Burleigh admits the players are annoyed with that state of affairs. “It is very frustrating but it happens in teams,” he said.
“I’ve been involved with the Highlanders and we had a star-studded team with a host of All Blacks, the likes of Ma’a Nonu, Tony Woodcock, Aaron Smith, Hosea Gear, Brad Thorn and Andrew Hore, and we won three games that year. It was frustrating, we were up one week and down the next. It’s really hard to put a finger on it sometimes.
“We’re working hard in training and some things just aren’t clicking on the field. It’s a players’ thing, we know we have to correct it and I’m sure in the next few weeks we will.”
Both teams for the Pool 5 clash will be named today and it remains to be seen how strong a side Stade Francais, who are currently ninth in the French Top 14, send over but Burleigh expects a tough match whatever they choose to do.
“I’d say their second string is just as good as their first,” said the Kiwi. “They like to throw the ball about a bit. We’re going to have a big night on defence I’d think. But we’re looking forward to the challenge.
“I try to catch a few French games on TV and I’ve caught a couple of their games recently. They beat Bayonne 51-5 at the weekend there.
“They have a few good players that caught my eye. Obviously Will Genia has a big part to do with the way they play and if he’s there again on Saturday we’ll have to look at shutting him down.
“Obviously his leadership is huge, he’s played a lot of international rugby. He’s a danger around the rucks. He’s got good gas and a really nice pass. His all-round game is good.”
Burleigh insisted that the players shoulder the blame for what has been a season with flashes of promise but too many of the failings which have blighted Edinburgh in recent years.
“There are a few things we’ve lacked in the last couple of weeks. We’ve tried to put those straight this week at training,” he said.
“I’d like to think if we do, as you’ve seen before against Harlequins and Ulster, we can beat these big teams.
“We are taking huge responsibility ourselves. The coach [Duncan Hodge] has done a great job since stepping in and I think on the field you’ve seen a lot of good things.
“It’s about putting everything together as a full package. We’ve got to play as a 15 or a 23 really as the guys off the bench are just as important. Our defence has to improve and we’ve got to cut those individual errors out.”