THE focus around Murrayfield yesterday was firmly on Scotland and the hopes and dreams of players looking towards the 2014 Six Nations Championship, but for the “other” team who occupy the national stadium it was business as usual.
Scotland are looking at a tournament kick-off in just over two weeks’ time, but Edinburgh have a big game this Sunday and while many were all a-twitter with congratulations for the club’s uncapped winger Dougie Fife and his deserved call-up to Scotland’s training squad, the focus will swiftly turn back to the not insignificant challenge of beating Munster at Thomond Park in Limerick to access the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals for the first time.
The club was inevitably boosted, however, by the selection of 11 players for the Scotland training camp to be held next week. In praising Fife’s call-up, Scotland coach Scott Johnson lauded the team’s form in creating more chances to allow him and Tom Brown to put their names on the scoresheet. That, he said, he been crucial in driving Fife firmly into contention not only for the training squad but also a place in the match-day 23 for the opening game against Ireland.
For Fife, who came through the ranks at Boroughmuir and Currie, pulling on the navy blue jersey in a senior Test match remains a dream, but he knows that a good performance this weekend in the south-west of the Emerald Isle would only help advance his claims.
The winger was quick to state yesterday that talk of Scotland was being put to the side and the focus maintained on the final Heineken Cup pool match, and a potential qualification that looked to be lost after defeats to Perpignan away and Gloucester at home. So far six sides have qualified for the Heineken Cup’s last eight – Toulon, Toulouse and Clermont Auvergne from France, Leicester the sole English qualifier so far and two from Ireland in the shape of Ulster and Munster.
Two spots are left with the top two runners-up to be confirmed on Sunday, but neither Edinburgh nor Glasgow can reach them, so the focus for the Scots is the new trap door into the second-tier tournament afforded to the next three runners-up.
Munster have secured their last-eight berth in the main event, but they still need a win in their final game at home to Edinburgh on Sunday to guarantee a home quarter-final.
Munster had ten players named in Ireland’s 44-man training squad for the Six Nations this week – Ireland skipper Paul O’Connell, Munster captain Peter O’Mahony, Stephen Archer, Damien Varley, Dave Kilcoyne, Tommy O’Donnell, Keith Earls, Felix Jones and half-backs Conor Murray and Ian Keatley. Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo are not in as they have only recently returned from injuries, though British and Irish Lions wing Zebo played at the weekend and is expected to feature against Edinburgh.
Munster have won ten out of 11 matches since they lost to Edinburgh at the start of the Heineken Cup in October. That run has taken them to the top of Pool Two and into the last eight, as well as to the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 table.
They have several players out injured, including Ivan Dineen, Donnacha Ryan, Sean Dougall, Mike Sherry, Luke O’Dea, Cathal Sheridan and Niall Ronan, but big names familiar from the Test scene will be in attendance as they and Munster look to sign off from the Heineken and head into an opening Six Nations game with Scotland in Dublin with a morale-boosting home win.
The challenge for Edinburgh is to take the confidence of a Scotland selection anointing many of their number and channel it into their best performance of the season, to fashion a result that could bring a long-term boost for club and country.
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE