EDINBURGH coach Michael Bradley has called on Fijian powerhouse Netani Talei to add some steel to Edinburgh’s bid to bounce back from an 1872 Cup first leg defeat and wrest the trophy back from their Glasgow rivals.
Having watched the video nasty of the first half at Scotstoun, where Edinburgh leaked three tries and virtually lost the game before it had reached the half-hour mark, Bradley was more upbeat yesterday as he talked through the six changes he has made for tomorrow’s second leg.
Academy wing Dougie Fife comes in for Lee Jones, who suffered a rib injury last week, while prop Allan Jacobsen starts, after withdrawing due to illness last week, and joins Andy Titterrell and Geoff Cross in a new front row.
John Yapp (knee) and Ross Ford (shoulder) are both out with injuries sustained at Scotstoun and South African Willem Nel is nursing a knock but will start on the bench if he passes a fitness test today.
Lock Izak van der Westhuizen has not recovered from the ankle injury that forced him off against Glasgow, so Sean Cox returns alongside Grant Gilchrist, and Talei takes over from Stuart McInally to team up with Roddy Grant and David Denton in the back row.
Bradley explained that McInally, after five successive games, was due to stand down in line with his individual development plan, which ensures that players are not over-played, but he believes Talei can provide a fresh impetus from the start that Edinburgh lacked last week.
“Netani was the players’ player of the year last year and had some stunning moments,” he said, “and he’s a strong ball-carrier for us, so we expect all of that and we’ll be asking him to front up in the defensive side of things as well and keep the workrate that Stuart McInally has displayed in the last couple of weeks. He could be a huge positive to us if he contributes in both of those areas.”
There is little doubt that that is where Edinburgh need swift improvement as the Warriors were superior at the breakdown last week, so were able to produce the platform that forced Bradley’s men on to the back foot for much of the decisive first half. Bradley insisted that he was not searching for some Holy Grail to lift Edinburgh’s performance, and push them back into contention for a play-off spot in the RaboDirect PRO12, but that a lift in effort and skill levels from the first minute was a must.
He added: “For large periods of the match last week we played well after a shocking start, so we have to play for the full 80 this weekend and keep Glasgow under pressure for the entire match. We’re playing at home in front of our own fans so that should be enough for us to get over the line.
“We know we let our fans down at the start of the game in Glasgow, but we also know that we performed well for a lot of that game under pressure, and if we can perform well without conceding points early then it should be a positive day for us.”
He starts again with Greig Laidlaw at scrum-half and Piers Francis at fly-half, but admitted that he plans to shift Laidlaw back to stand-off in January to allow him time there before the Scotland team is picked for the RBS Six Nations Championship.
It may be a sign of the pressure on Edinburgh to recover form that Bradley has turned to Francis when he already has two young fly-halves in Harry Leonard and Gregor Hunter pushing Laidlaw. One would like to see one or both being given valuable game-time but, clearly, neither is pushing the coach hard enough yet, nor showing that he has the skills necessary to turn around Edinburgh’s season, while Francis is viewed as a potential Scotland recruit in what continues to be a troublesome position.
“It is a difficult time in their career,” Bradley said of Leonard and Hunter. “It’s one of those periods where they have to put their heads down and work hard at their training and with their club, and maximise the time they get.
“But it’s not going to be complicated or out of their reach. It’s going to be simple and well-directed, the information they have and need to apply to get themselves back into the number ten shirt for Edinburgh Rugby.
“It’s a fact of life in professional sport. Both had opportunities in the last 18 months to nail the jersey, but there were inconsistencies in performance and that’s just the business we’re in.”
Rarely has the desire to win been more obvious. The pressure on Bradley to find winning solutions has not been greater since he took over the Edinburgh helm more than 18 months ago, and despite having five months of this season to go Murrayfield will take on a very despondent air if Edinburgh lose to Glasgow for a second successive week.
They currently sit in ninth spot, with just four wins from 11 matches in the PRO12, but a victory on Saturday could take them into seventh place and, depending on results elsewhere, within six points of the top four. They have Leinster coming to Murrayfield next week and then, after the Heineken Cup bids its farewell for another year, a run of games against Munster, Cardiff, Ospreys and Scarlets where their new strength in depth, having had time to bed in, should provide genuine hope against sides ravaged by internationalist losses. A win now would be a welcome spark for the capital outfit.
Bradley agreed, adding: “This is a hugely important game for us, with PRO12 points, inter-city rivalry and, of course, the 1872 Cup all wrapped up in the deciding derby. We need a good start, we need to get the tempo up and keep it there, move the ball, move our opponents, create space and punish any vacancies.
“You can feel and feed off the passion for this derby coming through all the players, and we need a much more cohesive performance to first establish and protect a lead, and then to target the ten-point cushion needed to secure the 1872 Cup. It will be another ferocious contest and the support of our home fans will be vital to our efforts, as we go all out from start to finish.”