As Edinburgh and Glasgow go searching for success in the Heineken Cup this weekend it is important to understand that both teams must go to the extremes of their outlay if they are to keep their European fate in their own hands. They have pulled off some fantastic results, but as the old adage goes “one swallow does not make a summer”.
Edinburgh are to replay Racing Metro ’92 this Friday. The last time they met one of the finest ever games of Heineken Cup rugby was played and a lucky few got to know what true excitement looked like at Murrayfield. It was the game that spawned the phrase ‘Edinburgh Globetrotters’. Now, though, those Globetrotters have to make their way to Paris in search of a vital European victory.
Do not be fooled. This is Edinburgh Rugby’s most important game of the season.
Michael Bradley has freely fielded weakened teams in the RaboDirect Pro12. He gave up on the second leg of the 1872 Cup and last week his charges were smashed by Ulster, despite recalling several front-line players. He has previously claimed that there is no First XV at Edinburgh, but now that he has overplayed the significance of the Heineken Cup and his side’s Pro12 form has lacked so much this game becomes must win. If it isn’t won with a return of his more experienced players he will have egg on his face.
So they must go to the extremes. There is no way of knowing whether or not the enigmatic French outfit will be up for this game, but this should have no bearing on how Edinburgh go about their business. With all the usual clichés listed Edinburgh must have good defence, yes, and good set-piece, yes, and take their points, yes, but they must also unleash their most adventurous attacking play. Edinburgh have to remove the shackles and tear into a swashbuckling game plan.
If they do not win, and win heavily, then they allow Cardiff Blues to play a part in their future outcome. They are neck and neck in Pool 2 with the Welsh outfit. A journalist I spoke to last week said that Edinburgh were topping the competition’s weakest pool. They need to stay there in order to have a more favourable draw for the next round, and they are capable of doing so. Cardiff, though, are capable too and Edinburgh need to score big to spread out in front of them.
They look well placed to progress but if the Heineken Cup is more important than the league then Edinburgh should be targeting the top of their pool table.
As for Glasgow, they face a more frightening prospect. They are only just in a playoff position in the Pro12 and their pool in the Heineken Cup is finely balanced. Any one of the four teams could still progress. Glasgow must perform in both remaining games and they start off against Leinster at Firhill. Yes, the same Leinester that have cruised to the top of the Pro12 and invariably kick into a higher gear for a bigger European audience.
Glasgow were blown away last time these two sides met and despite being at home Glasgow will not be favourites. They need to go to their extremes. There will be talk of scoring tries, yes, and making line-breaks, yes, and disrupting set-piece, yes, but really the Warriors must bludgeon their opponents in defence. They must stifle and kill play, because otherwise their classier opponents will offload around them at breakneck speed.
The truth is that Glasgow must hold this game close or it will get away from them, and then they must go to Bath and pull off a win at the Rec. It is doable and Bath are in lowly form right now, but in the Heineken Cup you would not want to be hunting down a victory away from home in the last pool game in order to survive. There may be uncertainty ahead, but Glasgow can make it less of a stress if they get a bonus point at the very least.
Of course they could win and of course they could score tries. However, a realist or a tactician would have to say that Glasgow must stay within 5 points for 80 minutes if they are to have any chance of progressing from Pool 3.
It will be another good weekend for Scottish rugby if Edinburgh are at their positive best and Glasgow are at their negative best. An unprecedented Heineken Cup run beckons if both teams play to their strengths.
Image courtesy of Leinster.