DCSIMG

Michael Bradley ready to tackle boyhood idols with his future on the line

Edinburgh's Michael Bradley. Picture: PA

Edinburgh's Michael Bradley. Picture: PA

  • by DAVID FERGUSON
 

WITH 24 clubs involved in the Heineken Cup, it is a quirk of fate that Michael Bradley sends his troops into battle tomorrow with his hopes of a future in Scotland potentially resting on the ability to beat the team he grew up worshipping.

Edinburgh’s Heineken Cup excitement was dashed with defeats to Saracens and Munster in the first two games of this season’s tournament, and back-to-back defeats to Racing Metro have left them rooted to the bottom of Pool 1 with zero points. Munster have not been in great form this season either, their own hopes of reaching the quarter-finals far from assured after defeats away to Racing and Saracens. They have to win at Murrayfield this weekend and then at home to Racing, and then can think again about 
Europe’s knockout stages.

With just four wins from 17 games this season, however, Bradley is acutely aware if 
Edinburgh do not pick up in the coming weeks his contract may not be renewed in the summer. He spoke of going through a process of learning, that is bringing players and coaches closer together, and termed it a period that they had to “survive” and emerge stronger from.

“As a coach you’re always vulnerable,” he acknowledged. “There are no certainties in 
renewals of contracts and that will be a stock answer from any coach in the position I’m in. I’ll just work as hard as I can with the boys. I’ve found it very challenging, but … let’s see what happens on Sunday. If we beat Munster that will give a completely different shape to our season and people will be asking ‘what happened in season 2012-13’ and we’ll say ‘well, we put Munster out of the Heineken Cup’.

“It might be a reverse of last year, where rather than beating Racing Metro in Paris at this stage, but it’s still a statement and an opportunity for us. If we then go down and do the same to Sarries and really annoy everybody, then that’s great. There’s no point in putting the nail in the coffin quite yet.”

A son of Cork, Bradley retains a lot of family and friends who wear the red of Munster with great pride. So, ironically, he may need a new contract and extended stay in Scotland if his side do manage to uncover a better start to matches and claim the Munster scalp tomorrow. “Munster have a fantastic tradition in this competition and I get a lot of texts and messages of support and good luck from a lot of friends, but this week with brackets ‘but not this Sunday’.

“When we had the run last year in the Heineken they were massively supportive and understood what it should mean to our club, as in Edinburgh Rugby, getting to the semi-finals. They didn’t, and were beaten by Ulster last year, and that hurt them badly. But the following week they’re on wishing us all the best.

“They understand, probably a little bit more than we do here at the moment, how big this competition can be for a club, and that’s part of our process of learning. When we played them at Thomond Park if they didn’t get the win that day they were out of the competition as well, because they were up against Sarries, and so they had to beat us, and after the first half they weren’t certain of doing that.”

That game was tight, Munster leading 6-0 at the break, scoring a try in the third quarter and only breaking free with three scores in the final ten minutes to eventually claim a convincing 33-0 victory, to add to Edinburgh’s woes after their 45-0 hammering from Saracens the week previously. Since then the Scots have struggled to uncover any consistency to their play.

In terms of the Heineken Cup, the zero wins stat is all the more demoralising after the team’s run to the semi-finals last season, and inevitable hopes that that engendered of the club turning a corner. So, why has that take-off not materialised this term?

Bradley said: “To me it’s relatively straightforward. Munster and Saracens are better sides than London Irish and Cardiff. We beat Racing last year twice and this year they beat us twice, but in the match here [this season] when it was 6-3 [to Racing] we then missed five kicks at goal. So it could have been 18-6 before they got their next score. They got three kicks then from 45 metres to win 15-6 and so that was one of those days, where they had a good day and we didn’t.

“Over there we had three half-chances to win the game and didn’t take any, so there’s still nothing between Racing and Edinburgh Rugby. The pendulum just swung their way this year.”

Though Nick de Luca is out injured, along with Tom Brown, Lee Jones, Ross Ford, Ross Rennie and John Yapp, among others, he has restored Greig Laidlaw to stand-off, alongside scrum-half Richie Rees. Ben Cairns returns at No 13 while hooker Steve Lawrie is given his first start since he 
returned from a year-long injury lay-off last month.

Munster, meanwhile, are close to full-strength with Doug Howlett joined by Keith Earls, James Downey and Simon Zebo in the threequarter line, and Irish half-backs Conor Murray and Ronan O’Gara pulling the strings behind a pack that has endured its own rollercoaster ride this season.

Edinburgh

15 G Tonks

14 D Fife

13 B Cairns

12 M Scott

11 T Visser

10 G Laidlaw (capt)

9 R Rees

1 A Jacobsen

2 S Lawrie

3 W Nel

4 G Gilchrist

5 S Cox

6 S McInally

7 D Basilaia

8 D Denton

Subs

16 A Titterrell

17 R Hislop

18 G Cross

19 N Talei

20 R Grant

21 P Francis

22 B Atiga

23 S Visser

Munster

15 F Jones

14 D Howlett (capt)

13 K Earls

12 J Downey

11 S Zebo

10 R O’Gara

9 C Murray

1 D Kilcoyne

2 D Varley

3 BJ Botha

4 D O’Callaghan

5 D Ryan

6 P O’Mahony

7 T O’Donnell

8 J Coughlan

Subs

16 M Sherry

17 W du Preez

18 S Archer

19 B Holland

20 P Butler

21 D Williams

22 I Keatley

23 C Laulala

 

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