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Edinburgh's search for a No.10 may now be over

If you like your rugby hard-nosed and pragmatic, then Gloucester's Kingsholm ground is usually a good place to go looking for it.

Greig Tonks gave his career at Edinburgh a massive lift with  his outstanding  performance at  No.10 against Gloucester on Sunday.  Picture: SNS
Greig Tonks gave his career at Edinburgh a massive lift with his outstanding performance at No.10 against Gloucester on Sunday. Picture: SNS

But at the venue where Mike Burton, Mike Teague and Phil Vickery used to strut their muscular stuff for the Cherry and Reds, the home team were distinctly second best to Edinburgh in the craft and graft stakes on Sunday.

In a game that was meant to sound the death knell for their Heineken Cup hopes for another season, Edinburgh breathed new life into their prospects of reaching the European knockout stages with a 16-10 victory that was anything but a fluke. They outplayed Gloucester in many areas and out-thought them absolutely everywhere. Remarkably, they may also have solved their seemingly perennial fly-half problem in the process.

Greig Tonks had known last week that there was a chance he would have to fill the No.10 berth. Harry Leonard, Edinburgh's starting fly-half for the past few months, was struggling with a thigh strain and with Piers Francis and Gregor Hunter injured and Greig Laidlaw rested, Tonks was told he was next in line. Only problem was that the 24-year-old had not played in the position for more than two years - and he had never played there in a match remotely close to the stature of a Heineken Cup tie.

And yet Tonks played a game of such improbable assurance that you would have sworn he had been a regular in the playmaking slot all his life. Freddie Burns, the Gloucester No.10, is meant to be the hottest property in English rugby at the moment - Leicester are said to be chasing his signature - but Tonks outclassed him with room to spare. It was a startling performance, one that could well see him cemented into the slot by Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons over the weeks and months ahead.

When he was first brought to Edinburgh from Northampton by former coach Michael Bradley at the start of last season, it was suggested that the full-back/centre might also be able to do a shift at No.10. Bradley had intended to make that switch in an early RaboDirect PRO12 game, but as Tonks was carrying a strain he decided to wait for a better moment. That moment never arrived on Bradley's watch, but circumstances forced the move on Solomons.

"We knew earlier in the week that I might have to play there," Tonks explained. "It was always in the back of our minds to see how Harry was. He was struggling a little bit, so Alan said I should be prepared for it. I ran at 10 in training through the week, so I was ready for it from Thursday."

It was a good weekend for rugby's travelling people, as eight of the 12 Heineken Cup ties produced wins for the away side. Yet even if results on the road became commonplace, only Northampton's astonishing turnaround from being humiliated by Leinster at home to winning 18-9 in Dublin could rival Edinburgh's victory as an upset. Yet, as refreshing as it was to watch, especially after Glasgow's grim capitulation against Cardiff two days earlier, Tonks suggested that the Edinburgh players always knew they had a performance like that within themselves.

"The fundamental thing is that for the last half-dozen games we've struggled, but it has been purely because of our own errors, our own mistakes," he said. "We have been giving teams easy tries, easy possession and an easy way out. This weekend we didn't do that. We kept hold of the ball, didn't spill it or give it away. We did what we had to do and everyone did their own little bit."

And how did Tonks feel about his sudden transformation into a fly-half? "I really enjoyed it," he smiled. "It helps that we won - that just makes it a bit sweeter.

"It was obviously a little bit new; I have played there in the past but not for a little while. At Northampton, I played a few games, mainly second-team games, at 10. When I was younger, I did a season in the Championship with Nottingham, playing fly-half, so I have done it before. But not at this level.

"They [the coaches] know that I can play there and that I've said I'm happy to play there. We are going to have to see what happens in the future, given the squad we've got. I think they will be pleased to know that I'm happy in the position and I'd like to think I can do a good job when I do play there. We'll just see what happens."

The outcome was more astonishing still as Grayson Hart, Tonks's half-back partner, had played just 17 minutes of competitive rugby - as a replacement against Ulster - for Edinburgh this season. Yet Hart looked as comfortable as Tonks, bossing his forwards, varying his game brilliantly, and doing his fly-half partner a huge service by taking pressure off him at critical times.

Tonks said: "Grayson is a talented player. He knows what he's doing. He did well, really well, and I enjoyed playing with him. He is confident, so he knows what to do and where. He's happy to take things upon himself, which helped me out. He took responsibility for a lot of stuff, which definitely helped me."

Edinburgh's two remaining Heineken Cup games, on the second and third weekends of January, are at home to Perpignan and away to Munster. As Perpignan have lost three times already in Pool 6, the speculation is that their interest in the competition may already have been extinguished and that may have a bearing on their performance at Murrayfield. It is far from inconceivable that Edinburgh could head to Munster next month with a European quarter-final at stake.

And perfectly likely, too, that Tonks will still be holding the keys to No.10 when they get there.

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