Sam’s Spanish roots will take second place for now

Sam 'Hidalgo-Clyne is looking forward to clashing with his'old school half-back partner, Scott Steele. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
Sam 'Hidalgo-Clyne is looking forward to clashing with his'old school half-back partner, Scott Steele. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
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WHEN thinking of European adventures, Reading doesn’t exactly leap out as the most alluring of destinations.

The Berkshire commuter town can’t just be a mere dormitory serving the metropolis – it hosts a famously raucous annual rock festival after all – but that is how it is often viewed. This evening, however, the Madejski Stadium there could turn into a field of dreams for Edinburgh if they can topple London Irish and secure a home semi-final in the European Challenge Cup. A semi-final that would be against Newport Gwent Dragons, conquerors of Cardiff Blues yesterday, which, on current form, you would rather fancy Edinburgh to win and march all the way to the final at Twickenham Stoop next month.

It may not contain the intoxicating fizz of the erstwhile Heineken, now Champions Cup, but progress to the last four and perhaps all the way would be a decent feather in the cap of a side that have been languishing in the shadow of their inter-city rivals to the west for some time now.

It’s only three years since Edinburgh made that thrilling run to the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup, beating this evening’s opponents twice in the pool stage and Toulouse in a quarter-final played in front of nearly 40,000 at Murrayfield on the way, but in some ways it seems longer. Nevertheless things do seem to be on the up under Alan Solomons, the South African who is hoping to secure an extension to his two-year stay, which is due for renewal at the end of the season.

The European Challenge Cup group stage, which saw them win five out of six and top Pool 4, seems to have galvanised Edinburgh’s season. The 1872 Cup was gleefully prised out of Glaswegian hands at New Year and results in the Guinness Pro12 have been getting more and more encouraging, with a top-six place and entry to the more glamorous Champions Cup, now in sight.

Reading will be all that matters for Edinburgh scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne today, but more exotic locations are at the back of his mind and not just in a rugby sense. The 21-year-old, who made five appearances off the bench as a support act to skipper Greig Laidlaw in the recent Six Nations, was born in Granada in southern Spain, and is keen at some stage to explore a bit more of his Spanish side. He was born to a Spanish father and Scottish mum, with whom he returned to Scotland aged three when the marriage broke down. He has had no contact with his father since but is still interested in exploring his Iberian heritage beyond his favourite tapas bar on George Street.

“Unfortunately I don’t speak any Spanish as I was quite young when I moved over but it’s something I would like to learn in the near future. I really like having a Spanish side and it’s a country I love to go to. It’s the east side I’ve mainly been to but I’d love to go back down to Granada and have a look around where I was born.”

If any sport was to come naturally to a lad with Spanish blood you would think it would be football, but Hidalgo-Clyne confesses that his early forays in the round-ball code did not bear fruit. “I tried football when I came over at first but I guess I just had some natural aggression as a kid because it annoyed me when people kept falling over, and you’d want to hurt them. But I think that’s what you get with wee man’s syndrome!

“My brother started playing rugby for Forrester and I asked if I could go along, and I got hooked straight away and carried on from there. I went to Corstophine Primary, then Royal High and then got a scholarship to Merchiston Castle from the start of second year and was there for five years.”

It was at Merchiston that Hidalgo-Clyne played regularly with Scott Steele who will be his opposite number today – a school reunion he is looking forward to and very keen to get the better of.

The converted scrum-half – he played mainly stand-off and full-back at youth level – says Edinburgh head to London Irish, tenth in the Aviva Premiership, full of the confidence. “The fact that we’re now pushing that sixth place in the Pro12 and that we have this big European game to look forward to is brilliant. We had a tough game against Lyon in the pool stage where we picked up a lot of injuries and that really put a downer on the team for a little while. But the depth of our squad actually came out in that and in the long run I think it’s actually helped us.”

London Irish

15 Andrew Fenby

14 Topsy Ojo

13 Eoin Griffin

12 Eamonn Sheridan

11 Alex Lewington

10 Shane Geraghty

9 Scott Steele

1 Tom Court

2 David Paice

3 Halani Aulika

4 George Skivington

5 Nic Rouse

6 Conor Gilsenan

7 Blair Cowan

8 Tom Guest

Subs

16 Jimmy Stevens

17 Matt Parr

18 Leo Halavatau

19 Jebb Sinclair

20 Luke Narraway

21 Darren Allinson

22 Chris Noakes

23 Tom Fowlie

Edinburgh

15 Jack Cuthbert

14 Dougie Fife

13 Phil Burleigh

12 Andries Strauss

11 Tim Visser

10 Greig Tonks

9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne

1 Alasdair Dickinson

2 Ross Ford

3 WP Nel

4 Anton Bresler

5 Ben Toolis

6 Roddy Grant

7 Hamish Watson

8 David Denton

Subs

16 Stuart Mcinally

17 Rory Sutherland

18 John Andress

19 Fraser McKenzie

20 Tomas Leonardi

21 Nathan Fowles

22 Tom Heathcote

23 Sam Beard

• European Challenge Cup quarter-final at Madejski Stadium, Reading. Today 5.45pm Live on BT Sport 2