PROFESSIONAL pride is an abstract yet hugely important concept in any walk of life, and for an exhausted Edinburgh squad it can rarely have been as crucial a factor in their approach to a game as it will be this evening, when they play their last match of the season against mighty Leinster at the Royal Dublin Showground.
They are certainly not playing for glory. An unlikely victory would bring relief and a certain sense of satisfaction, but in the context of a miserable streak in which the team have managed only one win in seven matches since the end of the Six Nations, any celebration will be decidedly low key.
The true purpose of tonight’s outing as far as Alan Solomons and his squad are concerned is to prove that when the chips are down and the cards are stacked against them, they won’t fold. That pride in the jersey and belief in what they are collectively trying to achieve will help rouse them to one final monumental effort. Forget about winning, avoiding humiliation would be a sign of true character – as Solomons acknowledged after his team’s 55-12 loss at home to Munster
“They are battling, there is no doubt about that, but they are tired, tired guys; and it is going to get harder next week because Leinster have got an edge on Munster when it comes to attack. They have some absolutely outstanding backs and if they are given license we are going to have a problem,” he said. “We’ve got to look at how we run this week and try to keep them as fresh as possible because practice is not going to make a mammoth amount of difference at this point.”
It must be a hugely frustrating situation for Edinburgh’s leading players to be in, but Matt Scott made a decent fist of sounding positive as he looked ahead to the Dublin assignment.
“We’ve had a couple of poor results at the tail end of the season and it is a tough way to end the campaign, but I suppose when you’re going into play a game against a team like Leinster away – the best team in the league – it does focus the mind, and you can’t go into the game thinking about your summer holiday. You’ve got to really just put in that one last effort,” he said. “Everybody is tired at this stage of the season, it’s inevitable, but we’ve just got to find the motivation to give it our all, and it will be a great test for us going into next year.
‘I remember after beating Toulouse in the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup a couple of years ago, we went across to Leinster the following week with the exact same team, but we didn’t have anything to play for in the league and we were all just thinking about the Heineken Cup, and they out 40 points on us with ease. We’ve talked about that game this week and we don’t want that to happen again. We were a team on form at that point and got hammered – purely because we went over there and didn’t defend properly. We certainly won’t be going over there with the same attitude this time.”
Scott is clearly comfortable singing from the Solomons song sheet, but you do sense that he is slightly irked by recent comments from the coach about inheriting a poorly conditioned group of players.
“We had a tough pre-season this year, and I thought everyone was in pretty good shape, but Alan obviously had different ideas about what constituted fit,” he shrugged.
“I suppose his philosophy is based more on functional conditioning, like wrestling and doing rugby specific movements, as opposed to just running up and down a field – and I think he didn’t see that we had done a lot of that before. So I think that’s what he means when he says we were not conditioned properly.
“He’s warned us already that it is going to be a horrible pre-season, but it will be good for us, I think.” Before then there is, of course, the small matter of getting through tonight’s match and emerging on the other side with heads held high.
Edinburgh will take-on that challenge without three players who started the Munster game, with full-back Jack Cuthbert released to the national sevens squad for the weekend, winger Tom Brown out with a knee injury and back-rower Cornel
du Preez rested after playing back-to-back seasons in South Africa then in Scotland.
In this trio’s absence, Carl Bezuidenhout has been shifted from stand-off to full-back, which allows Harry Leonard to wear the number ten jersey in his last appearance for the club; Sam Beard takes over on the wing; and David Denton returns to the back-row, with Ben Toolis being given his second start for the club in the second-row.
15. C Bezuidenhout
14. S Beard
13. M Scott
12. A Strauss
11. Ti Visser
10. H Leonard
9. Gr Laidlaw (c)
1. A Dickinson
2. R Ford
3. W Nel
4. G Gilchrist
5. B Toolis
6. M Coman
7. T Leonardi
8. D Denton
J Hilterbrand, W Blaauw, S Berghan, A Toolis, D Basilaia, G Hart, P Francis, B Atiga.