DO YOU remember how Edinburgh used to play five years ago? They were brilliant but awful, if you know what I mean. It wasn’t unknown for them to field three openside flankers which rather gave the gameplan away and, sure enough, they threw caution to the wind, throwing the ball wide at every opportunity. Little wonder Tim Visser topped the tryscoring charts year after year.
Edinburgh couldn’t stop scoring. They couldn’t stop conceding either. This resulted in the crazy 2009/10 season when the side racked up an astonishing 40 tries, more than any other team in the league, but with perfect symmetry you couldn’t invent, they also conceded 40, the second worst defence in the division.
Times have changed, and generally for the better. Edinburgh are less exciting to watch, that much is sure, but then the club’s long-suffering fans would surely trade a racing heartbeat for something a little longer lasting.... like the European Challenge Cup?
Under Alan Solomons they have gone back to basics. Edinburgh of old were playing Super Rugby in Europe where there’s a premium on set-piece and defence; if those two foundation stones don’t stack up there is little point in turning up.
Edinburgh have not so much turned over a new leaf as ripped up the old playbook and started from scratch and the good news is that their new, if limited, gameplan is well suited to cup final rugby where matches are rarely won by flashes of individual of brilliance but rather by the ruthless application of good decisions backed up by pinpoint execution. The new-look Edinburgh will kick the ball “downtown” tonight, rather than risk playing out of their own half, and only in Gloucester’s red zone will Solly’s men be encouraged to give the ball some width. With that in mind it’s encouraging to see Phil Burleigh get another run in the playmaker’s No 10 shirt. The Kiwi brings composure and his kicking from hand has been top class in his last two outings, long and accurate. Edinburgh’s regular fly-half Greig Tonks pops up at 15 ahead of Jack Cuthbert.
Perhaps the most important selection comes in the back row where Cornell du Preez returns following a serious ankle injury. The South African was the stand-out player before he got hurt and his timely return adds some muscle and nous to help flankers Mike Coman and Roddy Grant keep tabs on Gloucester’s danger man Matt Kvesic. The England flanker is brilliant at the breakdown in addition to being a big ball carrier. Edinburgh will have to win this battle because if Gloucester’s backs get quick ball they have the weapons to score from anywhere.
In truth, the English club is a little like the Edinburgh of old with threats across the back line, not least the sheer pace of Charlie Sharples and Jonny May. Half-backs Greig Laidlaw and James Hook are smarter than a box of foxes and Billy Twelvetrees remains a threat at 12, albeit an inconsistent one.
Gloucester have scored a good number of tries in the Aviva (46 compared to Edinburgh’s 38) and the best way to prevent them scoring at the Stoop is to stop them at source. Slow their ball, make Gloucester play from deep and then feed off the mistakes they make inside their own half.
It won’t be champagne rugby but if Edinburgh can squeeze out a victory this evening they will, at long last, have earned the right to pop a bottle or two of the fizzy stuff.