THE importance of defence to the recent transformation in Edinburgh’s fortunes is illustrated by the statistic which tells us that in their first nine games of this season (up to the break for the autumn international window) they managed four wins and a draw and conceded 27 tries at an average of three per match.
Compare that to the eight matches they have played since hostilities resumed, in which they have managed six wins, and conceded just seven tries at an average of 0.875 per match.
As the man who has been coaching Edinburgh’s defence since the departure of Omar Mouneimne at the start of November, Stevie Scott must take a fair share of the credit for the way the capital side have become so hard to score against.
The official line has always been that Edinburgh have carried on with the defensive systems Mouneimne had put in place, but something significant has clearly changed.
“Now we are getting to the check zone a lot quicker. We look to have a big contest at the breakdown, slow their ball down, get set, and put a real emphasis on coming forward into the check zone and dominating that space. That’s been a big thing we’ve worked on in the last month or so” suggests Scott.
“The contact area is something I am really interested in. I did a lot of work on that when I was at Sale. And defence makes you think about more things, so it keeps you mind fresh and focused on the whole game, not just specific things like the scrum and lineout.”
Edinburgh take on Lyon in the Matmut Stadium this weekend knowing that a victory will virtually guarantee qualification into the last eight of the European Challenge Cup.
Given that this new year has already seen the capital outfit defeat Glasgow Warriors to lift the 1872 Cup for the first time in six years, then go to Galway and become the first team this season to beat Connacht on their own patch, there would appear to be a real danger of physical and mental fatigue setting in.
However, Scott believes that the foundations have been put in place for Edinburgh to continue moving onwards and upwards on a week-by-week basis.
“This has been coming for a long time. A lot of people seem to think it has all happened over the last few weeks, but we’ve been building for this for 17 months now, since the nucleus of this squad and coaching team came together (during the summer of 2013),” he said.
“It took time for the boys to gel because there was a lot of change in terms of players leaving and other players coming in, and then when we felt we were starting to get somewhere at the start of this season we had a really bad run of injuries, but most of these players are back from injury now – I would say the only frontline players still missing are Grant Gilchrist and Cornell du Preez – and we’re in pretty good shape.”
“It was really important for us to back up that good result against Glasgow, and the way the boys handled themselves against Connacht on Friday night was superb. We went there and played the conditions superbly. We out-muscled them in every area, controlled the breakdown really well and we were just too physical for them. Now that is out the way we are able to start focusing on a different challenge away in France,” he continued.
“French teams at home rarely get beat. I know Lyon have massive pride in their home record, so it will be another tough challenge – but our preparation couldn’t be much better.”
Lyon have only an outside chance of progressing from the pool stage of the Challenge Cup this year, while they are currently 11th in the French Top 14 and only five points ahead of bottom placed La Rochelle, so there is a good chance that they will rest their big guns this weekend.
Scott said: “I watched their game against Bayonne at the weekend and they’ve got some key players – George Smith, Stephen Brett, Ricky Januarie – but they’ve also got depth in their squad. We can only focus on the team they put in front of us. It’s really all about us – we need to make sure we go there with the right mind-set.”
“We must be strong at set-piece because all French teams have a good scrum, and they like a driving maul, so our defence of that has to be good as well.”