A win for Edinburgh next weekend at Lyon will see the capital club through to the quarter-finals of Europe, never mind that this is the second-tier Challenge Cup, writes Iain Morrison. Edinburgh are four from four thus far, with back-to-back victories over London Welsh and two wins against French opposition banked. If they can claim another in Lyon on Saturday night Edinburgh will be uncatchable at the top of Pool 4… well, almost.
Alan Solomons’ side have already beaten the French club at BT Murrayfield back in October, although it looked at one point as if the hosts might finish the match playing seven-a-side rugby.
In a chaotic opening 30 minutes, Edinburgh won most of the minor battles but somehow lost five players to serious injury: Phil Burleigh, Roddy Grant, Hamish Watson, Sam Beard and Grant Gilchrist. Perhaps it was worth all the pain because the first player to leave the action reckons that that game proved something of a pivotal point for the club’s season.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before, it was pretty weird,” says Burleigh, pictured, who has seen most things in a career that has taken him to Canterbury, Waikato, Dunedin and now Edinburgh. “I was the first to go after 12 minutes and in the next five minutes I think there were another four guys down. All pretty serious injuries, so hopefully that doesn’t happen again.
“I actually went to the sideline. I thought I’d have a seat for the rest of the game and watch it. I was icing up and the game never really went anywhere for about 15 minutes. It was just injury after injury. It was a bit different.
“That was probably the turning point in how we have gone in the last few weeks because we had a wee bit of a run with injuries and I think winning that game gave us a lot of confidence going into the next few weeks and I think that it showed in the way we have been playing. I think we have won seven of the last nine or ten games, which is a lot better than we started and hopefully we can finish that way.”
In fact, Edinburgh have won nine of their last 12 outings (or six from nine since that first Lyon game back in October) but no one can question Burleigh’s assertion that his club are in a better place now than they were back then. Ahead of that victory, Edinburgh had won just three of their opening seven games and Friday’s victory saw the capital club give Connacht a first taste of defeat at home this season.
If Edinburgh can be criticised for anything in Europe it is their failure to land a bonus point, even against the hapless London Welsh, who have conceded an average of six tries per match in the Aviva Premiership. Burleigh insists that Edinburgh’s attack is improving and, if they can keep down the error count inside the opposition red zone, the bonus points will come.
The Kiwi centre talks well and if he is miffed at wearing 12 when he was brought over as a stand-off he hides it well. Instead he is forging a decent partnership with Matt Scott in the Edinburgh midfield. Just don’t suggest to the former Highlander that Dunedin is much like its northern equivalent.
“The weather I guess was the one thing that was the difference but I’ve got used to that now,” says the Kiwi of Edinburgh. “I wouldn’t say I’m enjoying it but I definitely got used to it. It’s not too different from here but we’ve got an enclosed stadium there. That makes a huge difference, it would be nice if they put one on here [BT Murrayfield], a big old roof!”