(Picture – SRU)
So that’s it for another year. No Scottish interest in Europe beyond the pool stages of the Heineken Cup yet again.
There is no use pussy-footing around on this issue. It simply is not good enough. Scotland’s professional teams have been competing in the Heineken Cup for 18 years. Although Edinburgh have made to the quarter finals twice and once made it to the semis, Glasgow have never gone beyond the pool stages.
Both teams had excuses when the funding for Scottish professional rugby was poor but that is not the case now. Edinburgh and Glasgow have more money and deeper squads than ever before and while they cannot match the big-spending French, they should be more than a match for the English and the Welsh and possibly even the Irish.
So what went wrong?
Both Edinburgh and Glasgow failed to do this.
For Edinburgh, it was the overwhelmingly depressing 12-23 defeat to Gloucester at Murrayfield on December 8. Having done the hard job and beaten Munster, Edinburgh rolled over against Gloucester and let in two of the softest tries ever conceded by the home team at Murrayfield. Had they won this game, then they would surely have been in the Amlin Cup and still in Europe with a trophy to hunt now.
For Glasgow it was the horrible 7-9 defeat to Cardiff Blues on 13 December. No-one really knew Glasgow could play this badly – but they did and, in doing so, extinguished their Heineken Cup hopes for another year.
Glasgow had a chance of toppling the champions from Toulon last Saturday but were destroyed in the setpiece. Four of Jonny Wilkinson’s five successful kicks – which decided the match – came from Glasgow problems at the scrum. Toulon have a massive front five with Andrew Sheridan on the loosehead at his destructive best but, if Glasgow has managed at least parity, they might have come away with a win.
It is a sobering statistic that Edinburgh managed to get no bonus points this year neither for tries scored nor for finishing within eight points of the winning side. Three or four bonus points could have seen them scrape into second place and into the Amlin Cup. The only other sides not to pick up any bonus points were the two Italian sides. Nuff said.
Glasgow have at least come close to this at Scotstoun but Murrayfield is the least intimidatory place for any team to go. Even with Edinburgh pulling in crowds of 7,000 or even 10,000 for European games, the atmosphere is still ghostly. The only time it has ever worked to Edinburgh’s favour was when Toulouse came calling in the quarter final two years ago when more than 30,000 came to watch. The lesson here, surely, is that Edinburgh can attract the crowds if they are successful but, at the moment, that looks some way off.
It’s still the hardest place to get a result in European rugby. Oh, what Edinburgh would give to have the sort of raucous support Munster enjoyed on Sunday with more than 20,000 red-shorted Irishmen and women cheering them on in a packed Thomond Park. The team responded – how could they not? – with a six-try demolition of Edinburgh. That is what Edinburgh have to aim for. Everything that is needed to win in Europe was in evidence there: winning home games, dominating upfront, picking up bonus points and turning your home ground into a fortress.
Unfortunately, neither Edinburgh nor Glasgow are any nearer uncovering the Scottish form of that success than they have been for years.