Duncan Hodge hoping that 14-man heroics inspire Edinburgh
Duncan Hodge hopes Edinburgh can carry the momentum of a famous fightback win into this evening's return encounter with Stade Francais in Paris.
The acting head coach is determined to make it four wins out of four in European Challenge Cup and was keen to focus on the positives of how his Pool 5 pacesetters fought back from a 20-3 half-time deficit and, with 14 men following Phil Burleigh’s 55th-minute red card, found a way to win a curious and compelling match 28-23.
“In the second half, to come back from 17 points down, says a lot,” said Hodge. “We were under pressure, but in the second half we made very good decisions and payed a lot better.
“There are a lot of positives. We are all pretty angry about the first half, but that’s what we have to learn from.”
Hodge said he had never been involved in a game quite like it and, while keen to tap into the feelgood buzz of victory over one of European rugby’s biggest names, it is clear that the shocker of a first half still rankles and he knows that the chances of another Houdini act in the event of a repeat would be pushing their luck.
“Tactically we need to shift our energy and put them under pressure. We didn’t fire a shot in the first half last weekend.
“Our energy wasn’t there, tactically we were short in the first half and we didn’t adapt quickly enough. It took us 40 minutes to make some changes that should have happened a lot earlier.
“I’ve been asking the group why that happened and that we have to rectify these problems earlier. We can’t wait until 40 minutes.”
Hodge, who has made eight changes in what is a five-day turnaround, was speaking before learning of Burleigh’s one-match ban for “striking” at yesterday’s disciplinary hearing and he was reluctant to comment on the warning issued to Stade lock Pascal Pape over what was deemed an “exaggerated” response to the Edinburgh centre’s contact.
“It’s hard for me to comment,” said Hodge. “Rugby has values and if they think someone is being a bit, well… then they’re probably going to want to deal with that. There was a touch to the face.
“It didn’t look like it was as bad [as he made out]. From what I’ve seen it didn’t look as bad.
“It could have had repercussions. You struggle with yellow cards for 10 minutes, never mind a red card for 20-25. We were lucky there.”
Hodge agreed that the red card did have a galvanising effect on the team as they pulled together to continue their fightback from what had seemed an impossible situation at the break.
“We were already back to within five points by then and we were starting to get there,” said the coach, “Everyone just sort of mucked in and raised their game a bit more.
“We managed to control possession a lot better – where you get hurt when a man down is if the other team has the ball they can squeeze your defence.”
Pape has been named in a Stade Francais team which also sees the return from suspension of legendary Italian No 8 Sergio Parisse.
Both sides field new stand-offs, with Jason Tovey replacing Duncan Weir and French internationalist Jules Plisson in for Springbok Morne Steyn for the hosts. Wallaby skipper Will Genia is not involved for Stade tonight.
The bulk of Hodge’s changes come in the pack, with Grant Gilchrist rested after playing five straight games and Magnus Bradbury also given a rest.
Tighthead Simon Berghan appeared to steady the Edinburgh scrum at the weekend and he gets a start, while Cornell du Preez returns in the back-row and hooker Ross Ford is back as captain.
Tom Brown returns from a groin injury on the left wing and Chris Dean comes in at centre.
“They’re a big physical team and it’s hard with a five day turnaround plus travel, we had to make some changes,” said Hodge.
On the Tovey-Weir switch, the coach explained: “Jason has played well, Duncan’s played the last couple of weeks and last week we didn’t manage to get our half back replacements on, it was just the way the game was going. It will be good to see Tov play.”
Hodge said that the upcoming 1872 Cup clash with Glasgow at BT Murrayfield on Boxing Day had zero impact on selection.
“No, this is all just about winning on Thursday,” he said. “We just want to keep winning, it’s a bit strange playing a team back to back, you’ve done most of your prep and now it’s about tactical alterations and see if you can shift things, so it’s exciting in a way.”
In recent seasons, when Edinburgh have performed well in Europe, such as the run to the Heineken Cup semi-finals in 2012 and the final of the Challenge Cup in 2015 there has been a price paid in terms of the league but Hodge feels that the squad is equipped to fight on two fronts.
Hard work lies ahead to improve their Guinness Pro12 placing and push up from worrying tenth spot they currently occupy to the top half they want to reach but the coach has no concerns that Europe could have a negative impact on that aim.
He said: “We have a strong enough squad and we’re not carrying many injuries at the moment. We just want to win games of rugby. The word consistency keeps coming up, and t doesn’t matter what tournament it is.”
Hodge, meanwhile, said an update on WP Nel’s neck injury can be expected in the coming days. The Scotland tighthead last played against Harlequins in October and, after missing the autumn Test series, has been ruled out of what remains of 2016 as he continues to be assessed.