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Edinburgh v Leinster: Bradley throws down the gauntlet

Edinburgh's task could hardly be tougher tonight as Leinster gear up for the subsequent Heineken Cup matches that will define their season, but the home team's Irish coach is more concerned about how hard his men are making life for themselves.

Michael Bradley is aware that some of the greatest players to represent his country are returning to the European champions' line-up as they seek to find the form that can salvage their European campaign.

The depth of quality in the Leinster set-up was demonstrated last week as their understudies scored 17 unanswered points to subdue the traditional feistiness of Bradley's former province Connacht.

By contrast, the team he is currently in charge of could hardly be in worse form having lost both derby matches to Glasgow for only the second time ever, those results the latest defeats in a run in which they have won just twice in 11 matches.

These are close to desperate times, then, for the head coach who knows something drastic must now happen to extend his time with the club beyond this year since his contract is due up in the summer, which is all a far cry from last May when his men came close to earning a meeting with Leinster in the Heineken Cup final.

Eliminated from that competition in record time this season, the defeats by Glasgow now mean they have no realistic chance of making the Pro12 play-offs either and his task is to find other ways of motivating them.

"All the Pro12 games now are going to be one-off challenges," Bradley said yesterday. "Our mindset is focused on the next game and challenging ourselves . . . baby steps in relation to organising and managing the game and getting into position where the opposition are under pressure and then capitalising on that. Let's see if we can do that. If we do, we have a lot of very good players but are making the game that bit too difficult for ourselves. We need to relax in relation to that sort of pressure, put it on the opposition and see how they handle it."

He admitted that making only minor changes to his team following last week's defeat by Glasgow which was much heavier in competitive terms than the final four-point margin indicated, is partly down to showing confidence in players and partly challenging them to prove they are better than that.

The match will, however, see Dimitri Basilaia, a powerful back-row forward who worked under Bradley and former Scotland head coach Richie Dixon in the Georgian national squad, make only his second start for the club as Edinburgh emulate what Glasgow did against them in picking three imposing back-row forwards.

"Dmitri's a physical player. We've not seen a lot of him, he has been available for selection at times when we have had the bulk of players available and then he got injured with Netani Talei at the wrong time for us, when we probably would have used both on a consistent basis," Bradley explained. "It has just come around that Dmitri will start at No.7 and we will see what sort of damage he can inflict on Leinster. He is looking forward to the game.

"We have switched David Denton to No.8 to give him a crack at maybe first-up balls. Then Stuart McInally, being the footballer he is, he'll pick whatever opportunities may arise in his area during the match. Stuart, I think, has been our best performing player this year. The unknown at the moment is Dmitri at No.7.

"He will play across the back row and is comfortable with it. He is quick over short periods and space, he has good acceleration and good football sense. It will be an interesting one to see how he goes."

It will also be interesting to see whether, with his limited grasp of English, the Georgian can walk the walk as he talked the talk yesterday.

"Against Leinster, we must win and I think we will win because the team is ready for this game. We will play them and we will beat them," he predicted.

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