Edinburgh seek to avoid unwanted loss record
EDINBURGH coach Michael Bradley suffered more Heineken Cup woe yesterday when his side lost 26-17 to Munster but he will try to carry forward the memory of their two-try finish as he seeks to avoid setting a new European record in Watford at the weekend.
Having again competed with and pierced their opponents when Bradley took the shackles off his side in the final quarter, the Irishman now seems to have a dilemma as he prepares for the final pool match, away to Saracens, one of the current giants of English rugby, and a series of games that could determine his future in Scotland.
Edinburgh have never finished a Heineken Cup pool campaign in the current format without a win, the only previous whitewash coming in their first year in the tournament, 1996-97, when they lost four games to Dax, Bath, Pontypridd and Treviso. That was a part-time Edinburgh squad, feeling its way into professional rugby, but Bradley now has the most expensive squad the capital has ever enjoyed and came into this year’s competition on the back of the biggest confidence boost in Scottish pro rugby history, a semi-final appearance in last year’s tournament. He is, though, up against European sides with finances and playing strength he can only dream of.
Bradley stated after yesterday’s 26-17 defeat at Murrayfield that he had sent his side out to play tight early on, to ensure they did not give Munster the opportunity to break loose, and open out later.
He said: “We lost the game at home, our fifth loss, and that’s not a good statement, but Munster came with the intention of winning the game and taking a bonus point, and we have to be conscious of that. Munster’s best asset of the past two, actually 12 or 13 years, has been their ability to defend and turn defence to attack so, if we’d cut loose at the very start of the game, that could have been dangerous for us.
“They got three tries in seven-and-a-half minutes at Thomond Park [first Heineken Cup meeting], so our key issues were discipline and shape and growing into the game, they’d get frustrated and we could then pick them off. We did that and got two good tries, which was nice to see in this tournament.”
However, as well as Edinburgh’s defence and tight play making it hard for Munster, the Irishmen squandered several try-scoring chances through handling errors and kicking goals instead of trying to take Edinburgh on up front – a clear change to the Munster style under new coach Rob Penney.
With arguably a poorer pack in the past, Edinburgh have been more competitive through grasping the old adage that “attack is the best form of defence”. It is always a blend of intentions, and there is little doubt that they could be ripped apart at Saracens on Sunday if they are too ambitious, but could it be worse than the 45-0 shellacking their received at Murrayfield that got this Heineken Cup adventure off to the worst start? With Munster the opponents again in the league the week after, Bradley has to find a turnaround in the first hour of games – swiftly.
Skipper Greig Laidlaw agrees with his coach that they have to be wary of naivety, but insisted that, with nothing to lose in Europe, they would seek to take the game to their English hosts.
“There are fine lines,” he said. “We can’t just go out and chuck the ball about all over the place, but we’ll be going down to Saracens to give it a shot.
“They’ve got a top defence and we need to be wary of that, play in the right areas and build pressure but, hopefully, we can get down there [the opponents’ 22] in the first half, which we didn’t do today, and then open up the game the way we did late on.
“I have told the players that we took some small steps, and that’s realistic. We can’t expect to suddenly turn it all around. Of course we never set out at the start of this not to win any games, but that’s the way it’s turned out and we need to pick ourselves up because next weekend could be the hardest game out of the lot of them.
“We want to win for Edinburgh Rugby and for our supporters and, of course, it’s about winning games but we can’t go from way down here to way up there in one game.
“I’d have hated to come out of another game with no tries and we did create opportunities and bust them open a few times, so we’re steadily getting back to where we want to be. Small steps. Now we need to build on that going into the Saracens game.”