Grant Gilchrist rues lost ball which cost Edinburgh

There has been plenty of chat emanating from the Edinburgh camp in the build-up to this campaign about the squad being bolstered by exciting fresh faces equipped to deliver a more expansive game-plan, but there was precious little evidence of this brave new dawn when the campaign kicked off with a depressingly predictable 34-16 defeat in Cardiff on Saturday evening.

06/09/16 BT MURRAYFIELD STADIUM - EDINBURGH Edinburgh's Grant Gilchrist

There were five summer recruits in the Edinburgh back-line, but we barely got a chance to see what they are capable of with the ball in hand because the team spent most of the match defending in their own half. For a club which prides itself on forward power, this was a worryingly ineffectual performance.

Edinburgh might have won all of their own set-piece ball, but they lacked the aggression and cohesion in subsequent phases to secure the quality of possession which would have given centres Solomoni “Junior” Rasolea and Sasa Tofilau the chance to make their mark on the game.

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Co-captain Grant Gilchrist has challenged his pack to respond with a dominant performance against the Scarlets at Murrayfield on Friday night.

“We know the work we have been doing and need to trust it and put a performance out there because Saturday night was not the team that I have been part of during pre-season. We have to put that to bed and focus on Scarlets this weekend,” said the big second-row. “We are putting pressure on ourselves as a forward pack because last week wasn’t good enough – a 100 per cent [success rate] in the scrums and line-outs isn’t good enough – we set our standards up here [points to the ceiling].”

“We need to go out there and not just win the ball at scrum and line-out, but dominate in the mauls, which gives us the chance to vary our attack and use the new guys we have brought into our backline. If you look at our eight, they are good enough to beat anybody in Europe.

“It’s one thing winning the ball, it’s another thing making sure it’s a good launch and that you’re getting the result you want out of it, and I don’t think that really happened as far as the lineout was concerned on Saturday,” he continued.

“We were winning good ball but then we’d try a check delivery and they’d get through on the nine – which is just one example where we’ve got to block properly. We have roles to play, over and above just winning the ball.

“We had a few good mauls in the first half when we drove them quite well but there were other ones when we bounced out and dropped the ball, and ended up defending for 40 phases or whatever. Winning the ball is one thing but we would give it away in the next phase because we were too slow to the breakdown.

“So that is a massive focus for us this week and it comes from getting our shape right in attack and getting over the gain line, in which case the clear becomes easy. If your shape is a bit poor and it is slow ball then you get hit behind the gain line and then everything gets much harder.

“They kept the ball better than we did and eventually that wore us down. If we can keep the ball and put teams under pressure the way Cardiff did to us then teams will break.”

After an injury-ravaged couple of years, Gilchrist is clearly delighted to finally be back in action, and he doesn’t think it will be long until he is fully up to pace.

“I am now three games in [including two pre-season friendlies against Sale Sharks and Newcastle Falcons] and feel I am getting that match fitness back. If you have not played a lot you have to get out there and get used to reacting to situations. You can do all the fitness in the world but it is different to playing a game of rugby. I feel I can get better and better every week,” he explained.

After just ten competitive games in the previous two seasons, the 26-year-old has a pretty decent excuse for being slightly rusty. It is not quite so easy to accept the collective malaise which the Edinburgh squad as a whole still can’t seem to shake off.