WHATEVER else you say about Edinburgh Rugby, they offer value for money because the team always plays for the full 80 minutes. Phil Godman’s winning kick sailed over the bar 14 seconds after full time. Edinburgh never triumph by more than a short nose, so despite winning four of their five matches the club still boasts a minus five points differential.
A few weeks back a London-based broadsheet bemoaned the state of English clubs in general, and Northampton Saints in particular, after the Midlands club had fallen to Castres. Northampton, the journalist explained, were desperately underpowered in comparison to their cross-channel rivals who had bigger budgets and could field bigger, stronger players.
They should all be force fed the video of Edinburgh’s extraordinary double bill against French giants Racing, who have an annual budget of approximately ¤22 million. Just as the race does not always go to the swift, so too the match does not go to the muscle and so it proved on Friday night. For all their forward power, Racing often looked lost in the face of a swarming Edinburgh defence that never gave them time.
The French club’s woes were made flesh by Sebastian Chabal. The totemic No.8 wasn’t just looking his age on Friday he was looking mine and that can’t be good. It wasn’t his coach beckoning him from the field midway through the second half, that was retirement calling.
Size isn’t everything and the flaws in Racing’s “big is best” theory were highlighted when the enormous figure of Benjamin Sa took the field. Having a 6ft 4in, 21st prop sounds good in theory but Sa was not only the size of a small continent he moved at approximately the same speed as one.
The Edinburgh pack was badly outmuscled in Paris, second-best in the set-piece battle by a convincing margin and they lost the territory and possession statistics too. By my reckoning the men in black turned over four lineouts and the same number of scrums, when penalised under pressure from the XXL Racing eight, but still they won because they were quick witted, inventive and aggressive both with and without the ball. They took their chances and they rode their luck; Racing dropped the ball twice with the line beckoning. Above all Edinburgh owe their victory to the work-rate of the back row trio and the intelligence of the half backs.
Each one of the starting back row trio scored a try, David Denton’s 25-yard effort the best of the lot, and then replacement Roddy Grant, with his first touch of the ball, won a turnover, which proved Edinburgh’s best source of possession for long periods of the second half. The flankers helped edge the battle of the breakdown with Denton and Ross Rennie doing their prospects of starting against England no harm at all.
Mike Blair had one of those evenings when he reminded everyone why he has earned more caps than anyone else in the Scotland squad, sharp in attack, kamikaze in defence. While Godman’s nerveless drop goal after 80 minutes won him the plaudits, it was Greig Laidlaw’s canny play that kept Edinburgh in the game.
You wonder why the Jed hero continues to fight for the national No.9 shirt, against serious opposition, instead of concentrating all his considerable talents on becoming a Test fly-half. He’s undoubtedly the most natural ball player Scotland has and he reads the game better than most. If you can protect someone as defensively suspect as Dan Parks at Test level you can certainly accommodate Laidlaw, who never shirks a tackle but can occasionally be found wanting for pace and power when confronted by a bison like Frans Steyn on the charge.
“I’ve no plans to change position at the minute and not without at least talking it through with the Scotland coaches to see what they thought,” says the Edinburgh skipper. “I’m just happy starting at ten and I was happy to move into nine during the match. That’s the position I was capped at and I want to keep pushing there because I feel that I have worked very hard on my game at scrumhalf. I definitely don’t want to move away from there.”
Adrenaline is already taking over ahead of next Sunday’s decisive game against a London Irish side boasting Wales’ least favourite Scot Steven Shingler.
Laidlaw added: “We are just delighted to get the win on Friday in Paris so that next Sunday’s final pool game really means something.
“It’s the biggest game for the club in eight years since Edinburgh last qualified and we’re hoping to attract a bumper crowd to support us on the day. I think there is a student deal whereby they can get into Murrayfield for a fiver.
“We definitely want to top the group so I guess a draw between Irish and Cardiff would have been perfect in an ideal world. But we can only control what happens next Sunday so there is no point worrying about any other game and if we emerge on top against Irish then we’ll be through!”
It would be another fillip for the game if Edinburgh can fly the flag for Scottish rugby after the Six Nations is done and dusted and at least Michael Bradley’s men hold their fate in their own hands. A win against London Irish would almost certainly secure a quarter-final berth, a draw might be enough.
Ahead of this season the Edinburgh players sat down and drew up their goals; they wanted to reach the RaboDirect play-offs and the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup. They’re not quite there yet, but one out of two wouldn’t be a return to sniff at.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 12 C to 20 C
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