Michael Bradley defends making 13 changes for 1872 Cup decider

THE DECISION by Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley to make a surprising 13 changes to his side for the second 1872 Cup match in Glasgow on Sunday points to a challenge that the Scottish sides have not faced before.

Bradley was at pains to stress that he is taking this weekend’s match seriously and asked supporters to back his reasoning. There is no doubt that he, like all RaboDirect Pro12 coaches, has pencilled in games to allow him to rest key performers but also to hand opportunity to those frustrated professionals, such as in his case Phil Godman, Alan MacDonald and Jim Thompson, kicking their heels on the sidelines, especially when asked to play three games in 11 days.

However, on a day when Munster and Ulster also announced wholly re-drafted sides for their league clash in Belfast, and Glasgow themselves changed seven players, the lure of getting everything spot-on in the final two Heineken Cup pool matches is as clear as day. Scottish sides have not had to seriously concern themselves with these remaining European matches very often, and so the Scottish derby has shone as the big games across the horizon of pro club matches. But in leaving out backs such as Tim Visser, Chris Paterson, Nick de Luca, James King, Greig Laidlaw and Mike Blair, as well as the all-Scotland front row, and Grant Gilchrist, Sean Cox, Ross Rennie and Roddy Grant from the pack, there is a distinct shadow feel about the Edinburgh line-up aiming for a first win at Firhill. They do have experience to bring in in the shape of internationalists Simon Webster, Godman, Thomson, John Houston and MacDonald while Stuart McInally and Matt Scott have shown themselves to be worthy starters this season, wing Tom Brown an emerging talent and Esteban Lozada and Netani Talei were bought to provide support at this very time.

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It is not what many Edinburgh fans, desperate to see the team build on the 23-23 Boxing Day draw by claiming valuable league points, will have wanted to see.

Bradley explained: “It’s a very busy time for us with three matches in 11 days, and we have a lot of confidence in our squad to it’s opportunity time for all players coming into a period with two matches that will define our season in terms of European achievement.

“We have a highly motivated group of players who see last week, this week and the next week as opportunities to grab a place in the European games. Let’s see how this team performs. All the players going out there will be playing for the jersey and the colours, and they deserve an opportunity to perform, and the atmosphere at Firhill will be very intimidating which will be a good testing ground for these players. If they come through then we’ll have a very strong confidence squad going through to the later stages of both tournaments.

“We certainly need our supporters in Glasgow and we need them to keep faith with the logic behind our selection, which is to give guys an opportunity. When you have players who are highly motivated and can see that a good performance will put them in good stead then that’s how we’re testing the boys and I’m expecting a very good performance from them.

“In fact, I think Glasgow will be under pressure to win the match on the basis of the team we’ve selected and that’s a good position because we felt pressure last week, and didn’t quite get over the line.” Pushed on whether he felt the Heineken Cup was more important than the Scottish derbies, he insisted: “You should always be respectful and mindful of local tradition and being the oldest fixture in the rugby calendar in the world it deserves a special place within the calendar. But it is within the calendar and there are other competitions going on, and so this is a competition within a competition. When you play in a derby match all coaches will say that the history and the form coming in doesn’t matter, and that also applies to selection to a large degree.

“I’m very confident that if this group of players perform well and do the basics right as we’ve asked them to do, we will come away with a win on Sunday.

“Glasgow have made seven changes and a positional change, so there’s a fair difference in the two asides who played last week. And that’s the reality of it; you just can’t keep rolling out the same side every week. It’s not fair on the players.”

There will be Edinburgh supporters unhappy with the selection if their team suffer defeat on Sunday, but most will surely share the coach’s ambition and believe that reaching the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, which is eminently possible with two big performances from a first-choice team next month, would be worth more than four points at Firhill.

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Naturally, Bradley could emerge the hero if his side win this weekend and suffer the brickbats if they lose and the Heineken Cup affair ends in disappointment.