DCSIMG

‘Stronger and fitter’ Ben Cairns gets nod to return after injury nightmare

Ben Cairns makes his comeback against Racing Metro tonight. Picture: PA

Ben Cairns makes his comeback against Racing Metro tonight. Picture: PA

  • by DAVID BARNES
 

IT IS not hard to discern the logic behind Michael Bradley’s team selection for tonight’s Heineken Cup encounter against Racing Metro 92 at Murrayfield.

With Edinburgh’s chances of making it beyond the pool stage of this year’s tournament already dead in the water after three losses in their opening three games, the Irishman has packed his team with players who have something to prove.

Nobody is suggesting that the regulars who have been rested for this match would give anything less than 100 per cent to the cause but the Edinburgh coach will be hoping that the desire to have a bigger role in the team will inspire his ensemble of youngsters and seasoned 
pros returning from injury to perform beyond themselves.

This is not a meaningless fixture. Scotland’s role in the Heineken Cup has never been under greater scrutiny, with administrators from all the participating nations currently at loggerheads about the future make-up of the tournament.

A Heineken Cup whitewash for either (or both) of the Scottish sides would do SRU chief executive Mark Dodson and ex-president Ian MacLauchlan no favours as they try to persuade their compatriots from England and France that their country is worthy of two automatic places in European club rugby’s flagship competition.

If Scotland’s representatives are to fall at the first hurdle then it would really help if they could do so with some grace – by at least appearing to be competitive, and picking up some wins along the way. In that sense, 
Edinburgh and Glasgow are playing for their Heineken Cup futures.

Not that such momentous considerations are preying too heavily on Ben Cairns’ mind. After 15 and a half months out with a knee injury he is just 
delighted to be involved again and desperate to repay his employers for standing by him during this wretched period.

“As far as I am concerned my knee has been fixed. I have been training fully for a while now. I have had no reaction from playing in the British and Irish Cup for Melrose last week – so I am good to go. Now it is just about training and playing as much as I can,” he said.

“I’m massively grateful for the support and faith that the SRU and Edinburgh Rugby have shown in me. Now that I am back it is about me repaying that faith – starting this week,” he added.

Such lengthy lay-offs have ruined other careers but Cairns is an impressively self-assured character. The fact that Bradley feels he can select him for a Heineken Cup match so soon speaks volumes for the way the 27-year-old has conducted himself during the last year and 
a half.

“It has been small, gradual steps all the way but, as long as I have been moving forward, then it has been much easier to take. I have made sure I have had small goals to achieve all the way through so that I can tick them off and feel like I’m achieving something, as opposed to looking at the bigger picture and thinking: ‘Jeez, I’m never going to get there’. I’ve always felt 
like I am moving in the right 
direction.

“I kept a diary and it was great to look back at what I was doing in week one and two compared to week five and six. Even in that fairly small time period there was a massive difference in what I was able to do. Being able to look back and have that perspective about where you were and where you have got to helped me stay really positive.

“I was determined to come back fitter, stronger and faster – and I feel as good as I have ever felt. I definitely feel stronger in the gym after that being all I could do for the best part of a year.

“As for the rugby side of it, I felt I was making the right 
decisions on the ball and my awareness was pretty good.”

The timing of the initial injury could not have been worse for Cairns. Having dropped out the Scotland side soon after Andy Robinson took over as head coach he had been included in the training squad for the 2011 World Cup and was feeling in good shape.

“It was really tough. It was just before the warm-up game against Italy that I did it, so I went from feeling like I was in peak condition for the start of the season to missing the next year and a half,” he explained.

Now that he is back he is looking to make up for last time. Scotland – with a new coach (whoever that might be) – looms on the horizon, but a more immediate concern is generating a bit of momentum for Edinburgh by recreating that sensational 48-47 victory over Racing Metro which set the Heineken Cup campaign alight last season.

“That was easily the best game of rugby I have ever watched. I would love to play in a game like that. For us, it is about making sure that they don’t get that early dominance up-front that they will be looking for with that big pack, and creating a tempo which will pay dividends at the end of the game,” he said.

“The big thing that struck me about that last game was the way the guys didn’t ever give up. We were 20-odd points down at one point, but we kept hammering away at them and they were run off their feet in the last twenty minutes.”

If perseverance and a never-say-die attitude is going to be crucial to Edinburgh tonight – then anyone who has watched the man wearing the No 13 
jersey battle his way back to full fitness can testify that he is made of the right stuff.

Edinburgh

15 G Tonks

14 L Jones

13 B Cairns

12 B Atiga

11 D Fife

10 P Francis

9 C Leck

1 J Yapp

2 R Ford

3 G Cross

4 R McAlpine

5 G Gilchrist

6 S McInally

7 R Grant

8 N Talei

Subs

16 A Titterrell

17 A Jacobsen

18 W Nel

19 P Parker

20 D Basilaia

21 R Rees

22 G Hunter

23 S Visser

Racing Metro 92

15 G Germain

14 S Bobo

13 G Bousses

12 A Dumoulin

11 J Imhoff

10 O Barkley

9 S Descons

1 E Ben Arous

2 D Szarzewski

3 L Ducalcon

4 K Ghezal

5 FCV der Merwe

6 A Battut

7 B Le Roux

8 J Cronje

Subs

16 T Bianchin

17 J Brugnaut

18 JP Orlandi

19 JQ Nailiko

20 M Belie

21 JM Hernandez

22 F Estebanez

23 A Galindo

 

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