Who’s in Edinburgh’s pool and what are their chances. Iain Morrison runs the rule over Pool 4
Forget anything produced by Cadbury, Edinburgh are the flakiest flakes in Europe’s box of rugby chocolates. They will surprise on the upside, as in their Heineken Cup run to the semi-final, and they will torment their small but loyal core of fans with regular displays of astonishing incompetence, such as being bullied out of the Challenge Cup final by Gloucester. Richard Cockerill has made a difference so far, as has defence coach Calum MacRae, so Edinburgh are not quite the house of cards they once were, but whether they have the beef up front and the resilience to make a dent in this contest is doubtful; just clambering out of a pool containing last year’s winners may be their hardest task.
We are all in favour of expansion but what a Siberian side is doing in the European Challenge Cup is anyone’s guess. The Russians are seven time zones hence and play in sub-zero conditions but Krasny Yar are a big noise in Russian rugby, professional enough to have hired Campbell Johnson and Marty Banks, the former an ex-All Black prop, the latter a very capable fly-half who played umpteen times for the Highlanders and now leads Benetton’s back line. The Kiwi signings have been helped by an agreement with Canterbury Crusaders who offer summer facilities and expertise. The Krasny Yar squad is mostly Russian with a smattering of Eastern Europeans, Romanians and Georgians, plus two Tongans who must have invested heavily in long johns.
Back in 2011/12, Edinburgh launched their Heineken Cup run with a win over the Exiles in Reading and perhaps they can repeat the trick this time out? There is something amiss at the heart of London Irish, perhaps because they have lost any Irish connection they once had; just the one Irishman on their books but four Scots, Blair Cowan, Scott Steele, Greg Tonks and Gordon Reid, although the prop has yet to make an appearance. The club attracts all too few fans to Reading’s Madejski Stadium so a move back into London, to Brentford’s new facility, is scheduled for 2019. Former All Blacks prop Ben Franks and the giant winger Napolioni Nalaga are probably the highest profile players in a squad with all too few big names and, even then, the Fijian broke his arm last weekend.
In France the club is known simply as “Paris”, and for a while they were the only top class outfit in the capital… until local rivals Racing 92 were restored to the Top 14 in 2009. Last season the two clubs almost merged but the predictable outcry (both clubs were already the result of previous mergers) saved Paris from what looked like a hostile takeover and they live to fight another day. The experience seemed to do wonders for team morale since Stade Francais won the Challenge Cup last time out, beating Gloucester in a topsy-turvy final by 25-17. They finished seventh in the league last season and the squad retains some star dust, Sergio Parisse, Jules Plisson, Willem Alberts et al, but they somehow amount to less than the sum of their parts. Another frustrating team for fans.