EDINBURGH are hoping the return of seven Scotland caps tomorrow night can help them bring an end to a record run of defeats in the league when they meet the Scarlets at Murrayfield. They are also seeking a much-needed confidence boost ahead of their Heineken Cup quarter-final with Toulouse.
Edinburgh have won just four games out of 18 in the RaboDirect PRO12, their last victory having come nine matches ago against Aironi on 2 December.
They are in 11th spot in the table, four points above the Italians, who also have four wins and who finish with games away to Ulster and Connacht, and at home to Scarlets and Ospreys.
Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley played a weakened team against Glasgow at the turn of the year to ensure his side was fit for their Heineken Cup pool finale, and the gamble paid off with wins over Racing Metro and London Irish to clinch a home quarter-final.
Since then, the two months spent without his international players has emphasised for Bradley the need to strengthen the squad.
Expectation and resources are greater than at his previous club Connacht and, backed by SRU Chief Executive Mark Dodson, who has increased the player budget at both professional teams to close to the £4.2million English Aviva Premiership clubs enjoy, Bradley has recruited South African tighthead prop WP Nel and Northampton utility back Greig Tonks, with Wales prop John Yapp and Dimitri Basilaia, the Georgian No 8, also understood to have agreed terms.
More new faces are in the pipeline, while Scotland’s most-capped scrum-half Mike Blair is known to be leaving, Phil Godman, Esteban Lozada and Ulises Gamboa are also tipped to exit and Scotland’s most-capped internationalist Chris Paterson has spoken of the challenge of picking the right time to retire.
Speaking yesterday after Ross Rennie and Nick De Luca became the latest Scotland caps to pledge their futures to the club, Bradley appeared to acknowledge that the run of defeats confirmed others who will not play a part in his future plans.
“The results haven’t been acceptable really, so that inevitably will point to change,” Bradley said. “From my point of view and a coaching point of view it’s important to state that the effort from the lads has been top-class. Where we’ve let ourselves down has been in the accuracy side.
“Against the Dragons [last Friday] we made six line-breaks in the second half but didn’t manage to take any of them. We had some good rugby to create and not so good rugby to finish off. We snatched at a couple of balls and turned them over and that’s kind of been the theme for the last four or five weeks, but it is very important to state that we are creating the chances.
“But from our point of view, we’ve had a bad run in the Pro12 and we do need to stop the run we’re on and this is a very good opportunity for us to do that at home. That is our priority.”
There is a welcome return tomorrow for winger Lee Jones, now fully recovered from the head injury he suffered in Dublin playing for Scotland against Ireland but the success of Edinburgh’s season, comes down to next weekend and the hope that a full-strength squad of 12 internationals will perform at a level several notches above that witnessed in recent weeks.
Bradley needs the squad to come together quickly and effectively, therefore, in tomorrow night’s dress rehearsal for the match against the French league leaders.
Beating the Scarlets, Bradley insisted, was not “absolutely critical” to overcoming Toulouse, before adding: “But we would love to win the match. Just even for our sanity at this stage it’s important that we get a ‘W’ on the board. “We feel a bit of pressure from Glasgow, who are knocking over ‘Ws’ on a regular basis, and that’s tribute to them. There is a fair distance between us and them now in the Pro12 so it is important for us that we do get the win. As for next week, that’s a quarter-final of the European Cup, a one-off which hasn’t happened in Edinburgh. We’ll have 27,000 or more and the excitement will be massive, that is a separate entity.
“We’re delighted to welcome them [internationalists] back… they’re very talented players who have played well for us this year, and for Scotland. They might not have got the rub of the green in terms of the international results, but they’re a big part of what Edinburgh Rugby are about. The integration was quite smooth and the guys are looking forward to playing this week and to competing for places on the following Saturday.”