London Irish v Edinburgh: Old friends square off

A MERCHISTON Castle School reunion could go a long way to deciding if Edinburgh can make it to the European Challenge Cup semi-finals when they take on London Irish this weekend.

Scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne is an emerging talent for club and country this season, but that is likely to be put to the test by his former Edinburgh school half-back partner Scott Steele for London Irish.

Hidalgo-Clyne was the outside half in that partnership, but has since moved in to take the No 9 shirt for Edinburgh while also earning his first five caps for Scotland during the Six Nations.

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The ambitious target he wrote down a couple of years ago of being part of the Scotland squad for the forthcoming World Cup now seems a formality.

If Edinburgh beat London Irish in the Challenge Cup they will earn a semi-final at Murrayfield, three years after the last big European knock-out game there when they beat Toulouse to reach the Heineken Cup semi-final – with Hidalgo-Clyne one of the 39,000 faces in the crowd.

He underlined his growing reputation with a strong performance as Edinburgh won in Llanelli to keep alive their challenge for a top six place in the Guinness Pro12, landing six out of six penalties as an added bonus.

Standing in the way at the Madeksji Stadium will be Steele, who played age grade rugby with the likes of Jonny Gray, Mark Bennett, and Adam Ashe as well as Hidalgo-Clyne. Having come through the Leicester Academy, he is now a regular starter for London Irish.

Hidalgo-Clyne said: “Our focus goes to London Irish now. I know a couple of guys down there and my opposite man is someone I played with at school. Scott Steele is a good player, so I am looking forward to that hugely.

“I was a Merchi boy for five years, he won a scholarship there for my final year, he was a nine and I was a ten when I was at Merchi.

“We were in the same team so I have not played against him as a scrum-half yet, that is something to look forward to. I suppose I know more about him as a nine than he does about me, so I can keep that up my sleeve.

“We have been good friends for a long time, there is a bit of rivalry there so I am looking forward to it.

“A home semi-final would be big for the club, if we can get it. We have been up and down this season so for the club as a whole and for Scottish rugby it would be fantastic.

“They got almost 40,000 for the last quarter-final at Murrayfield and I was in the crowd cheering on the boys. Hopefully we can keep pushing on and, if we can make that semi-final, it would be a great occasion I am sure.”

The quarter-final clash is also a chance for Hidalgo-Clyne to build on his Six Nations performances, where he regularly replaced captain Greig Laidlaw as the matches wore on.

“You take everything from the experience of the Six Nations, I learned from Greig – he knows a lot about the game so I just took what he’s good at and what I’m good at and tried to put it together,” he added.

“I have only been a scrum-half for a few years now so knowledge of the game is something I am still working on, it is nice to learn that role and still try to progress every day. I did not expect to be involved at all in the Six Nations so I came out on a high.

“A few years back I put things down on paper and I have those targets to aim for. My long-term goal was the World Cup, there is no point writing it down unless you try to get there.”

It is a short distance from Merchiston Castle to Murrayfield, but Hidalgo-Clyne will be hoping former teammate Steele does not stop him making that journey in the European Challenge Cup.