League ‘variance’ gives Bradley confidence

THE nub of the argument put forward by English clubs in the current Heineken Cup row is what is providing Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley with confidence that his side will not suffer a repeat of last season’s disaster in Dublin this evening.

The last time Edinburgh and Leinster met was at the RDS on 13 April when a shadow Leinster team demolished a near full-strength Edinburgh by 54 points to 13, eight tries to one. To compare the teams that ran out that night with the line-ups today might be enough to send Edinburgh supporters into a cold sweat.

On that spring evening last season, Leinster started with just four of the players that would play a fortnight later in the Heineken Cup semi-final and today there are only six survivors from that match in the blue and yellow, the rest mostly better than those who rattled up 54 points. Edinburgh, meanwhile, start 11 of the same side that played last time and have chosen this weekend to rest their top scorer Tim Visser, bringing back newly-capped Tom Brown after injury, while restoring Geoff Cross for Willem Nel and Roddy Grant in place of Ross Rennie in the pack.

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Brown, being asked to fill Visser’s jersey this week, played in last year’s match but does 
not appear to lack confidence 
as a result. He said: “It was a tough game over there, and there are no excuses to be beaten by that.

“But we’re going there this weekend with a lot of confidence. There’s a good buzz around the camp, a lot of competition going around and I think Edinburgh have raised their game. Our success last year will have been noticed by all the clubs and something we’ve really focused on this year is having a good shot at the RaboDirect, and the first few games will also have made people take notice. I think we are a feared team at the moment.”

Bradley is rarely as voluble, nor enthusiastic about comparisons, believing that the various demands on RaboDirect teams, and the willingness to rest players at different times skew the competition at times. That is 
essentially why English clubs want to force a change and make the RaboDirect a qualifier for Europe, something the Scottish Rugby Union will continue to resist at next month’s ERC meeting.

For now, however, Bradley believes that what happened five months ago bears little relevance to this evening’s encounter, bar the fact that he will remind the players of that mauling “a few times between now and kick-off”.

He said: “There’s such a 
variance and so many factors when you go to every different club in the Rabo, with so many things happening, whether you’re building up to the Heineken, are post-Heineken, are building to an international etc etc, so it depends on how the fixtures fall.

“This year we’re travelling there on the back of two wins. We have plenty of confidence and have moved the side around a little bit. I suspect that they will be as close to their Heineken cup side as they can get to, so that should make for an intriguing game.

“Leinster deserve the respect of Heineken Cup champions and have been a very consistent side in the Rabo for the last eight years, so those factors indicate that it’s going to be very difficult in Dublin.

“But we’re playing well and we’re creating chances and, while I don’t suspect we will get as many against Leinster, if we take them we’ll put them under enough pressure and can win the game.”

A lot can happen in five months. Bradley has brought in a clutch of new players, with full-back Greig Tonks, Richie Rees, the scrum-half, the new front row of Nel, Andy Titterrelll and John Yapp, and flanker Dimitri Basilaia all having made their presence felt and the forwards, in particular, will be crucial in Edinburgh’s bid to increase the run to three wins from the opening four games.

Leinster have not added many strings to their bow over the summer, and, while undoubtedly still a top side, remain reliant on figures such as Isa Nacewa, Jonny Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll, Leo Cullen and Jamie Heaslip. That is a core any team would like, and Leinster supporters among the expected 17,000 tonight will be delighted to see them all back after a heavy defeat to the Scarlets and big victory over the Dragons was followed by a stuttering 19-18 win away to Treviso last week.

Cullen skippers a side which shows several changes to last week. Up front, Sean Cronin comes into the front row in place of Richardt Strauss and he will line up alongside international colleagues Cian Healy and Mike Ross. Cullen partners Tom Denton, who will make his home debut for the province, with Heaslip, Shane Jennings and Kevin McLaughlin continuing in the back row.

Nacewa also returns to the starting line-up and he is named in the back three alongside Fionn Carr and Andrew Conway.

Gordon D’Arcy makes his first start of the season and he will line up at centre alongside O’Driscoll, who will be looking for his 56th career try for 
the province. O’Driscoll now lies one ahead of D’Arcy in third place and four behind Denis Hickie’s tally of 59 tries. Shane Horgan leads the all-time list 
on 71 tries.

Bradley took note of the performances in Leinster’s win over Treviso and believes that his side are travelling across the Irish Sea a more potent proposition than for some time.

He added: “Treviso are a strong side, in particular at home, and they took Leinster on up front physically and they really weren’t able to cope with that. They also ran some aggressive lines in the centre and out wide, coming back at the drift defence, and Leinster weren’t able to cope with that either.

“But that could be a state of mind as well. Leinster might have been thinking about going to Treviso, winning the match and getting the guys off the bench, which is what they did, but they’ll be wary of Edinburgh and will want to start building strongly now for the Heineken, as we do, so the timing of the match is pretty good for both sides.

“I don’t know who’s going to win but it should be a cracking game.”

These are the weekends when the RaboDirect Pro12 is at 
its best, and when Edinburgh face the strongest test of their improvement.