E DINBURGH and the Heineken Cup; it's the kind of relationship people write novels about.
Sometimes passionate, other times tame; sometimes fired with fire and determination, other times more ice and resignation.
So perhaps we should not be surprised to look back and realise that it was the Heineken Cup that really sparked the current Edinburgh side to life. In October, they had been expected to be on the wrong end of a hammering by Munster, only they won, and when they were leading 7-3 at half-time the following week in Perpignan, it looked like there could be a repeat of the 2011-12 miracle, when they reached the semi-final.
But Edinburgh could not sustain it. Silly mistakes handed the French easy tries and a bonus point win that means the Scots are struggling to make it through to the knockout stage of the Heineken Cup. But all the same, says prop Alasdair Dickinson, there were enough positive points in their performance to show they have good reason to be optimistic about the return next weekend and with it an outside chance of a Heineken Cup quarter-final or, failing that, the consolation of a place in the Amlin Cup.
"It's still a live game for us," he said. "The first half we played really well, though it was a massively physical game. A couple of mistakes in the second half and with the quality Perpignan have, the game ran away from us, but it does show we can compete with the top teams in Europe. We certainly believe we can win this. It is going to be a tough game; Perpignan are class but you never know with French teams, sometimes they can be world beaters, other times they struggle away from home. We are a work in progress from the start of the season, but each week we are getting better. Sometimes it is hard to see but, looking back, every game we have played we have got better and now we have to maintain that.
"Alan [Solomons, the head coach], Omar [Mouneimne, the defence coach] and Stevie [Scott, the defence coach], are absolute fanatics about attention to detail and minimising your mistakes. That is the culture we are building, though I'm sure every team is trying to do the same thing. There is nothing lost yet, whether it is the faint possibility of qualifying in the Heineken Cup or going down into the Amlin. All the guys are champing at the bit, especially after not getting a game last week."
That decision to postpone the 1872 Cup second leg match against Glasgow when the Scotstoun pitch couldn't cope with the deluge that struck two hours before the game was due to start - "It was 50-50 when we arrived, but then the rain got even heavier," Dickinson said - means Solomons will not have any worries about resting players who will have had 16 days off after the Boxing Day defeat by Glasgow. Add Solomons' consistent selection policy - "If you play well, you will keep your place, if you don't there's a class player waiting to move in," said Dickinson - and you can pretty much name his team now, with the only doubts being over players such as Matt Scott, who is due back imminently from the broken hand he sustained against Japan.
As a result, even before a selection meeting has been held, Dickinson, who started ahead of Ryan Grant when Scotland played South Africa and came off the bench in the other two November games, is a near-certainty for Saturday's European clash. After taking a bit of a gamble coming back to Edinburgh where his career began decade ago, he has started all but four of the club's 15 games this season, on top of winning caps in all six of Scotland's matches in the summer and autumn.
"The last couple of years have been tough with injuries, so it has been good to get a run of games," he said. "I have managed to put some decent performances together. It's a squad thing, we are getting better, getting used to playing together and getting used to the coaching staff. I always play better when I play every week, so it has been a huge advantage, though there is always room for improvement."
With the faith being shown in him by the coaches, the revived morale in the Edinburgh camp, the feeling that they are slowly but surely climbing back up the ranks of Celtic and European rugby and the general contentment of settling back into Edinburgh life, it was no surprise that Dickinson jumped at the offer of a new contract when it was offered last week, signing on for another two years.
"I wasn't there last season, but could see from the outside that morale was low. It is hard when you have lost a few games as I found out at Sale when we were 12 points adrift at the bottom of the league at one point. Fresh faces this season, players and coaches have brought the morale up. Everything is looking positive, though we still have massive improvements to make. It is just a case of hard work, there is no magic pill," he said.
If they need an extra morale boost, they have only to look to the west and see the plight of Glasgow who travel to Exeter with both sides knowing that only a miracle can keep them involved in any form of European competition — the kind of match for which the term "dead rubber" was invented.