So, Edinburgh’s season has been rescued – at least for the next few weeks. Edinburgh’s 29-23 victory over Munster last weekend means the capital side still have something to play for this season.
They went into the game knowing they had done everything possible to put themselves out of contention in the league after less than two months (one win from five and rooted to the bottom of the table) and aware that defeat at home in the Heineken Cup would put them virtually out of Europe too. Edinburgh could easily have been looking at a virtually worthless and barren season by now, half way through October, and it is to their enormous credit that they battled through to get the win against Munster.
The tackling was generally solid and aggressive, the game plan conservative but well executed and some of the players really shone – none more so than Matt Scott at 12, lock Sean Coz in the lineout and scrum half Greig Laidlaw from the tee. But they have to acknowledge they were lucky. Munster really started to turn the screw after half time and, for the third quarter, the match appeared to be heading inexorably towards the men from Ireland.
Edinburgh found it hard to get out of their own half and often could do little more than hoof the ball away then wait in a line for Munster to run at them again. If Tim Visser’s try had been disallowed for foul play in its lead up – and that could easily have happened – Edinburgh may well have lost and all that sense of improvement and having something to play for would have disappeared.
But Edinburgh won and, in the end, that is all that matters. However they need to back it up. In theory, they could lose away to Perpignan on Sunday and still get through to the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup but, in reality, it would be difficult. Edinburgh know from their experiences two years ago that you need to win all your home games, preferably with a couple of four-try bonus points, and win two of your away games, to stand a realistic chance of topping a group.
Now, if Edinburgh could win away at Perpignan on Sunday, then we really could start to think about another great Heineken Cup run but that is an exceptionally tall order. The French teams play differently at home: just ask Glasgow.
The Warriors had the toughest task of any side in Europe last weekend when they travelled to Toulon, home of the European champions. That Glasgow emerged with a four-try bonus point, despite recording a 51-28 loss, is actually a tremendous result.
Not only are Toulon packed with international superstars but, when they start to get on top on a sunny day at home, as they did on Sunday, they can be irresistible. Some of the back play in that first half was sensational, particularly from Matt Giteau, throwing passes behind his back, flicking the ball away in the tackle and offloading at speed, all of which seemed to fall into the hands of another Toulon player.
Glasgow were clearly over-awed early on but came back in the second half to play the rugby their fans know they are capable of. Some have criticised Ruaridh Jackson for being subdued in the first half. That is true but he was hardly the only one. In the second, though, he came to life and it was his tremendous break to set up the irrepressible Niko Matawalu for his try.
However, for Glasgow, this weekend is even more important than last. For years, Glasgow have done well in the league but failed dismally in Europe. The pressure is on for them to turn that around this year. Indeed, they know the only way they will get respect is to start making a mark in Europe, and, having lost their first game – albeit to the European champions – they need to win on Sunday against Exeter. For them, the same basic European rule applies: you have to win your home games in Europe if you want to even think of qualifying. That is why Glasgow are under more pressure this weekend than Edinburgh. They need to win at home against a side that looked very impressive in putting six tries past Cardiff last weekend. It can be done and, for Glasgow, it needs to be done. It is that important.
Before last weekend’s matches, it would have been difficult to find any Edinburgh players who could have got into the Glasgow side on merit. After last weekend’s matches, though, a combined Edinburgh and Glasgow team would be much more balanced. It would still leave the thorny question of how to accommodate Matawalu at his best (which is undoubtedly when he’s playing at nine) and Laidlaw but, for what its worth, here is one suggestion of what a Glasgow/Edinburgh combined team from last weekend would look like:
Ryan Grant, Ross Ford, Willem Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Sean Cox, Richie Vernon,
Chris Fusaro, Josh Strauss, Greig Laidlaw, Tim Visser, Ruaridh Jackson, Matt Scott,
Mark Bennett, DTH van Der Merwe, Niko Matawalu.
It wouldn’t be a bad Scottish side either – or it would be as soon as Nel and Strauss get qualified …