Ripping up the rule book may prove the right move for Edinburgh’s radicals
GENTEEL and Georgian, Edinburgh was at one time known for producing nonconformists who blazed their very own trail, and now the capital’s rugby club have torn up every rule in the book on their way to next Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi-final in Dublin.
Not since Renton, Spud, Sickboy and Begbie leapt on to the screen in Trainspotting has Edinburgh produced such charismatic anarchists.
Successful sides are supposed to put up a decent showing in their day jobs whereas Edinburgh lie one off the bottom of the Pro12. Winners invariably have age and experience on their side while Edinburgh field a bunch of boys – Matt Scott, Grant Gilchrist, Tom Brown and Lee Jones – who are effectively in their freshman year, with David Denton not much older. Heineken Cup winners defend like Confederate general Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson; Edinburgh defend like Michael Jackson.
OK, the last point is a little unfair given their heroics in holding Toulouse to just one try but still Edinburgh conceded a painful 54 points to Leinster’s second string last weekend in the Pro12 league. As dress rehearsals go it wasn’t an ideal run in Dublin, the venue for next Saturday’s semi-final, but we’ve learned not to read too much into Edinburgh’s league results. Ulster have already walloped Michael Bradley’s men twice this season, home and away, with an aggregate scoreline of 80-36.
Ulster will start as favourites next Saturday but more important than the odds is the fact that the Belfast side are still fighting on two fronts. Coach Brian McLaughlin was forced to field something close to his strongest XV in losing to Leinster on Friday evening while Bradley will field something close to his weakest XV against the Blues this afternoon. Which approach is better, rest or regular rugby, is almost irrelevant because Bradley was never going to risk his frontline troops just six days before the semi-final.
Next Saturday’s match will see two old antagonists meeting for the umpteenth time, only the surroundings will be different. Edinburgh and Ulster share far more similarities than differences: athletic forwards, pacy wings and intelligent half-backs. Any further cultural overlap should come as no surprise since many Ulstermen originated in Scotland a few centuries back. Ulster boast their South African quartet but Edinburgh have an Englishman, a Dutchman and a Fijian in their starting XV and there must be a joke in there somewhere. As Bradley pointed out last week, the two teams know each other pretty well.
“We know them inside out. We know their culture. We know what they will do on the day as they know what we will try to do.”
The Edinburgh coach was happy to talk in general terms about the upcoming semi-final, especially the overriding need for discipline after conceding two yellow cards in the quarter-final and living to tell the tale.
“We need to seriously consider where on the pitch we play the match because they will capitalise on any mistakes we make. Pienaar is a quality kicker, as in world class. Munster made three mistakes which were 51 to 53 metres from their line, and that was nine points, so we’ve got to be very careful about that.”
However Bradley was reluctant to talk specifics and perhaps he’s wise to keep his own counsel after catching Toulouse on the hop. He and Tom Smith hatched a plan to sideline Edinburgh’s traditional wide game and instead attack Toulouse at the very point that the French believed they were strongest, the set piece. Take that away and you turn their world upside down, so credit to Edinburgh’s front row that the audacious plan came off.
Edinburgh’s chances of doing the same to Ulster were given a boost by Frenchman Jean-Noel Couraud. The ERC disciplinary officer handed the Scots an early Christmas present by banning Ulster’s All Black prop John Afoa for four weeks. The giant Tom Court was switched to tighthead last weekend in defeat to Connacht and so impressed that he was immediately restored to his preferred loosehead berth for the Leinster match.
Instead Declan Fitzpatrick filled the No.3 shirt on Friday evening, his first start this year thanks to injury, only his sixth start this season, and if Edinburgh can scrummage as well as they did against Toulouse they could gain a small edge up front, crucial in a game that will be measured in millimetres.
Unusually for them, Edinburgh played a highly structured game against Toulouse. Rather than wing it, literally so, they played by the book, disciplined, controlled and fiercely competitive in defence. They will need to be all of those things on Saturday but more besides.
Ulster inflicted defeat on Munster at Thomond park for the first time ever in the Heineken quarter-final but they still needed a brilliant solo try from winger Craig Gilroy to secure the win. In similar fashion Edinburgh won’t rely upon the structured game that beat Toulouse or the wide, frantic, seven-a-side rugby that saw them put 48 points past Racing. They will need to deploy the best of both.
Bradley repeatedly refers to Ulster as “efficient” and so they are. If the semi-final becomes an arm wrestle, a battle of wills that hinges upon which team wants it more, you’d have to back the men who beat Munster.
Edinburgh will plan to play in the Ulster half, as much as is possible, and hope that their strike runners can come up with a big play when they need it most. Look out for a smart line from the centres or a cross field kick from Greig Laidlaw aimed at the giant wing Tim Visser.
Edinburgh know they can win but, in addition to everything else going right on the day, Bradley’s men will need that extra something, some inspired brilliance, a moment of magic, if they are to book their place in the London final. At some point in this semi-final Edinburgh will need to do what they do best and rip up the rule book.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east