Greig Tonks: Edinburgh must slay Dragons in Pro12

Greig Tonks has been switched to full-back from stand-off to accommodate the return of Phil Burleigh. Picture: SNS
Greig Tonks has been switched to full-back from stand-off to accommodate the return of Phil Burleigh. Picture: SNS
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Edinburgh utility back Greig Tonks admits that this Friday’s home Guinness Pro12 match against Newport Gwent Dragons is a must win.

Following three successive defeats in the league, Edinburgh enjoyed back-to-back wins in the European Challenge Cup but the focus is very much back on reigniting a Pro12 campaign which had started with four wins out of four.

Tonks agreed that victory over the struggling Welsh outfit is imperative. “Yes, 100 per cent,” he said. “You can’t afford to slip up too often, especially now the Word Cup is over and all the teams have their top players back. Everyone has a full squad now. We have to win at home.”

Edinburgh reached the final of the Challenge Cup last season and have started their pool well with a French double over Grenoble and Agen, which Tonks believes has boosted the team following the disappointing result and performance in the 16-14 home loss to Munster a couple of weeks ago.

“It was nice to get two relatively convincing wins off the back of that poor Munster performance,” said the Scotland cap. “It is frustrating that all three of those games were in torrential rain, which is not the prettiest. We have not been able to do some of the things we’ve been practising, but two wins is good and the boys are confident.

“I was a bit rusty against Munster, but I have felt a lot better in the past couple of weeks.”

Tonks has been filling in at his favoured position of stand-off in place of the injured Phil Burleigh, although the Kiwi could return on Friday. The 26-year-old has enjoyed playing with the new centre pairing of Matt Scott and Will Helu. He said: “I like the fact they are both very vocal as that makes my life easier. Matt played really well last week [in Agen] and Will is very good at organising. I know I can give those boys the ball and they can create something. I’m enjoying playing alongside them.”

Tries have not exactly flowed for Edinburgh this season and they are yet to notch four in a match this season, but Tonks has been happy with the defence, which is statistically the best in the league. “Everyone’s worked hard on that,” he said. “It’s a key component of what we’re trying to do. It sounds stupid, but if teams aren’t scoring tries against you then you will be hard to beat.

“We haven’t scored many tries though, but Duncan Hodge has come in and he has a clever attacking strategy he wants to implement. Hopefully, despite the weather, we will start to see some of that. I think sometimes spectators don’t quite appreciate how hard it is to move the ball through the hands when it is like a bar of soap.”

The Dragons come into Friday’s game with two wins, both against the Italian teams, and five defeats. Tonks is confident of a return to winning ways but is anticipating a tough encounter. He said: “They have not had the best start in the league, but they had a good win against Sale in Europe and they played well at the weekend [a 32-29 loss at Castres]. They will be physical and aggressive. We had a good win against them here in the Challenge Cup semi-final at the end of last season, so I’m sure they’ll want to make amends for that. I was injured then but it was a good win for us.”

The Dragons always present a tough physical challenge up front, but Tonks believes Edinburgh have the pack to deal with whatever is thrown at them.

“It is something we can cope with,” he said. “They fly off the line and try to shut you down, so with poor weather as well there won’t be much flowing rugby. We have to be smart, tactical and direct. Our forwards are in a good position so it will be a big night for them with driving mauls and accurate kicking.”

Edinburgh travel to Ulster next weekend before another two weeks of European action with back-to-back games against London Irish leads into the first leg of the 1872 Cup showdown with champions Glasgow at BT Murrayfield on 27 December.

Tonks said: “We want to be in that top six, which is why the next two games are so important. We’ve slipped up a couple of times so it is important to get victories, especially at home.”