When people see ‘exclusives’ in sport, be it about big transfers or political fall outs, images are conjured of dark car parks, exchanged envelopes and that dirty, dirty feeling of theft. Normally it suits the source clubs and bodies to have that image because every one of them dreams of having a monopoly over information.
That is not only unrealistic; it is the stuff of pure fantasy. Any leak is normally given by someone who cares very much about what is going on at a club or wants the fans to know the truth.
Of course, sometimes it serves as a distraction. We stare brazenly at a montage of distractions. As consumers this is what everyone knows. Flashing bands of headlines and a blurb. It is why the news about Townsend to Glasgow was chucked out to the baying masses. It is the reason why almost all news of players being released comes with some other piece of PR. In modern sports the bad headline, unless reacted against, is rarely sent out on its own.
So as I tried to get some intimate bits of information before the Heineken Cup semi final I went through the traditional channels. The usual clichés are trotted out and everything is very much as is. However, as there are no English teams in this year’s Heineken semi finals, Sky are forced to look elsewhere for a story.
The attention being paid to Edinburgh is suddenly much greater than it normally is. In truth, for both parties it is a bizarre and almost novel sensation. The fallout from this, however, is that more distraction is demanded at a time when Edinburgh want to give away as little as possible. Nothing beyond mood and what is expected to be said can be said.
Sky ask about Denton because he is popular after the 6 Nations. He, in turn tells them what they want to hear. “Ferris is one of the best, if not the best, blindsides in the world at the moment. He’s a great player. When he gets on the front foot you can see the team rally behind him. I think if I can get on top of him there we’ll stand a good chance,” he tells them.
“I’ve played against Ferris before and a very strong Irish back row and I didn’t feel out of my depth. That’s important. If you can go into a game feeling confident in your own ability and your team’s ability, that’s the first step.”
Is this a tactic? Well, in the biggest game Edinburgh have ever played, it would be suicide to reveal that; although Denton may intone it is, he is being led by Sky questions. I tried to ask about specific tactics and understandably was informed that no, I will not be finding that out.
Had I gone to the shady car park I probably would get the same response from any contacts. At this stage it all means too much. Indeed, it is almost totally irrelevant when faced with this black and red enigma. For example, last week may as well have been a postponed game for all the relevance it held for this semi-final. Some ring rusty pros got a game, but Edinburgh would not change how they approach this week had they lost 120-0.
Yet what has to be said is: Edinburgh must change their tactics from the Toulouse game. By all means keep firing up the wingers in defence and let Visser at them when the line is stretched, but in terms of kicking there must be a move away from the plan of the quarters.
Laidlaw changed the length and direction of his kicks against the French giants and it caused a level of disarray, especially with Jauzion wearing 15. Much has been made of Toulouse knowing little about Edinburgh, and perhaps that played some part, but really they were squeezed and Laidlaw was in his finest tactical form.
The hope is that interviews from the likes of Denton and De Luca playing coy, suggesting that Edinburgh have ridden their luck and that they respect Ulster ever so much, they may be able to ambush them. According to one forthcoming source at Ulster, though, that won’t fly.
Ulster have maintained their focus, and “nothing has changed training wise this week. We have kept the pitch sessions the same, review/preview meetings are the same and our own individual work on the opposition is the same so we are fully prepared for anything Edinburgh has to throw at us.”
The source continues: “we saw from both quarter finals what we both did and deserve to be in the semis, but we [Ulster] have to be quietly confident as we have been playing some great rugby, scoring some great tries and defending very well. It’s been a long 13 years since we have reached this far in this competition and we don’t want it to end here, we are finally putting our mark in European rugby over the past couple of years and want to go further and attract bigger players to this little country of ours.”
It seems that, as before, everyone assumes Edinburgh will lose. However, this time there is not an underestimation of Edinburgh. They will know what to expect, and deep down Michael Bradley knows that, too.
It all comes down to unlocking that defence. None of my Edinburgh sources are talking, but my advice would be: keep your eyes on Visser’s movement third phase, and look out for the bomb in Ulster’s 22.
Edinburgh will need to bring their full bag of tricks to Dublin, and perform them all perfectly.