MICHAEL Bradley says that Edinburgh still have their sights set on qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup this season, despite the fact that they lost their opening two pool matches by an aggregate total of 78 points to nil.
Making the last eight would represent one of the most sensational turnarounds in Heineken Cup history after last year’s semi-finalists slumped to a humiliating 45-0 home defeat by Saracens on the opening weekend of this year’s tournament and followed that up with a scarcely more creditable 33-0 loss at Munster the following week.
Edinburgh are back in European action tomorrow evening, when they visit Racing Metro 92, and Bradley has called on his team to recapture the form of last year – when they notched dramatic wins home and away against the Parisian outfit on the way to winning a group which also contained London Irish and Cardiff Blues.
“We don’t believe we are out of the tournament,” insisted Bradley. “We obviously have to get two wins in the next eight days when we play Racing home and away. Then nobody knows what is going to happen between Saracens and Munster. But, if we get two wins, we can look at the table after four matches and we’ll know for sure whether we have something to play for in the last two games. Until then we’ll go to Paris this weekend looking for the win, then bring Racing back home to Murrayfield and look to double up on that win.”
He added: “Games like the two we played against Racing last season are not good for the nerves, but the fact we won both games is very good for us going over there this weekend. We don’t fear them.
“We respect them in terms of the quality they have: world-class players, a huge pack and a very physical, strong-running, off-loading game. They can play superb rugby, as we saw at Murrayfield last year, and they seem to have improved their defence. They have brought in some key players over the summer so they are probably a stronger side than we faced last year – but we are a stronger side as well.”
This final point should raise a few sceptical eyebrows. Edinburgh’s appalling performances in Europe and the fact that they lost five matches on the bounce between mid-September and late November in the RaboDirect Pro 12 hardly points to a team on an upward curve.
But two wins in their last two outings against the Ospreys and Connacht has offered hope that optimism generated by last season’s success in Europe allied to some fairly impressive signings over the summer was not completely misplaced.
“It was a bad time. We just seemed to let matches get away from us, but we have been very competitive in the Rabo. The Heineken was a bit of a shock to us in terms of result and how we performed – and we have had to live with that during the last couple of weeks – but we have a chance to put it right now. That is the mindset we have going into the game,” said Bradley.
“The boys worked very hard during the break for the autumn internationals – they knuckled down to the fine details that needed sorted out – and we’re now going into this game on the back of two good wins which has really boosted the confidence of the whole squad.
“The Scotland guys came back into the squad last week and the banter has returned this week, so they are back on the horse as well. Hopefully they will be in good fettle for Saturday.
On the departure of Scotland coach Andy Robinson, Bradley said: “It is a tough one. I think he is a quality coach and a quality person.”
v Racing Metro at Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir tomorrow, kick-off 6pm
15 G Tonks
14 T Brown
13 N De Luca
12 M Scott
11 T Visser
10 G Laidlaw (capt)
9 R Rees
1 J Yapp
2 R Ford
3 G Cross
4 S Gilchrist
5 S Cox
6 D Denton
7 R Grant
8 S McInally
A Titterrell, A Jacobsen, W Nel, P Parker, R McAlpine, P Francis, D Fife, L Jones