Heineken Champions Cup preview: Magnus Bradbury on Edinburgh’s return to Europe’s top division

It’s a mere seven weeks since an Exeter side featuring Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Sam Skinner won the Heineken Champions Cup by beating Finn Russell’s Racing 92 in a thrilling final in Bristol.
Magnus Bradbury is delighted about Edinburgh's return to the Heineken Champions Cup. Picture: Ross Parker / SNSMagnus Bradbury is delighted about Edinburgh's return to the Heineken Champions Cup. Picture: Ross Parker / SNS
Magnus Bradbury is delighted about Edinburgh's return to the Heineken Champions Cup. Picture: Ross Parker / SNS

The competition returns on Friday and Edinburgh get their first taste of action the following night when they host La Rochelle at BT Murrayfield.

It’s a return to the top echelon of European rugby for the capital side who played in the second-tier Challenge Cup last season, reaching the quarter-finals.

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It will also provide a welcome break from the travails of the Guinness Pro14 where Edinburgh have struggled to cope without their large Scottish international contingent.

A run of five defeats from seven matches has left coach Richard Cockerill increasingly exasperated. Magnus Bradbury, the Edinburgh back-row forward, acknowledges how tough it has been but points to the blooding of young players as a positive to take from the gruelling start to the domestic season.

“We’ve been missing a lot of players - the last game we had I think it was 13 of the starting 15 who were away with Scotland - so that’s going to challenge any team,” said Bradbury who will be heartened by the return of Edinburgh’s internationals this week.

“In terms of performances and results, I feel gutted by the results first and foremost, but we’ve got to take the positives from them. It’s not all negative.

“For the young guys who have stepped up - Nathan Chamberlain, Dan Gamble and Sam Grahamslaw just to name a few - I think it’s been absolutely excellent. The attitude shown by them and the rest of the team has been first-class during the week in training.

“Particularly in the past couple of weeks against Leinster and Ulster, it shows when you switch off and you don’t have that concentration it can really, really punish you.”

The disruptions to the rugby calendar caused by the coronavirus pandemic mean the Champions Cup has a new, compressed format this season, with Edinburgh in a sub-group of three teams alongside La Rochelle and Sale Sharks, who they will play in Salford on December 19.

If the competition’s new configuration appears complicated that’s because it is. The important thing for Edinburgh is that they’re back in with the big boys.

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“I think it was probably one of the first things Cockers said when he came in was that’s where we want to be; that’s our first target, playing in the top flight of European rugby,” said Bradbury. “Because no matter how far we go in it, you are playing the best teams in Europe, and it’s hugely exciting for everyone in the squad to be testing our mettle against them.”

La Rochelle are flying high - top of the Top 14 after ten rounds of matches - but Bradbury is encouraged by Edinburgh’s recent results against French sides.

“They are a huge team and a very successful team, but we’ve shown we can beat these teams even across there with Toulon, and running Montpellier pretty close as well. So we’re going to prepare as we do for every game, look at their weaknesses and their strengths, and go there and fire some shots and see what happens.”

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