• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

French record can be extended to stay in hunt

It would be doing Greig Laidlaw a grave disservice to portray the 28-year-old Borderer as some sort of rugby-playing version of Corporal Jones, but there is unquestionably some truth in his suggestion that, when it comes to playing in Edinburgh, the French really don't like it up 'em.

Greig Laidlaw is confident that Edinburgh can achieve the victory over Perpignan that would give them a shot at an unlikely quarter-final place
Greig Laidlaw is confident that Edinburgh can achieve the victory over Perpignan that would give them a shot at an unlikely quarter-final place

Not that Laidlaw put it in precisely those terms, his rather more diplomatic observation ahead of Edinburgh's forthcoming Heineken Cup tie against Perpignan at Murrayfield being that the capital side have already built up an impressive track record against teams from the other side of the English Channel - on home soil at least.

In other words, Edinburgh, with a slim chance of reaching the last eight of Europe's premier rugby tournament (and with a slightly more realistic chance of clinching a consolation slot in the Amlin Cup quarter-finals instead) have no reason to fear the arrival of a Perpignan side whose own prospects of progress were almost certainly dynamited by their back-to-back losses to Munster in December's tranche of games.

"Traditionally, in the Heineken Cup, we have done pretty well against French sides," remarked Laidlaw. "If you look at Edinburgh's history, we have put away Racing Metro, Toulouse, Stade Francais, and Perpignan - before my time - as well. French teams don't like coming here and we need to make sure they have that feeling this weekend."

Laidlaw's assessment is informed mostly by recollections of that annus mirabilis that was the 2011/12 Heineken Cup season, when they claimed the scalps of both Racing Metro and Toulouse in the course of the giddy and sometimes tumultuous European run that was only halted when they lost by three points to Ulster at the semi-final stage.

That campaign was, without doubt, the high water mark of Edinburgh's incarnation as a professional side, but the expectations it created were extinguished the following season as they transformed themselves from European force to European farce with a set of results that measured their hair-raising awfulness on the Heineken Cup stage.

Their fall from grace was swift and startling, a pattern mirrored by the hero-to-zero career trajectory of former coach Michael Bradley, who was obliged to clear his desk at Murrayfield barely 10 months after leading the side to the cusp of glory.

In retrospect, it is easy to conclude that Edinburgh and Bradley were flattered by their dash to the last four of the competition, but it still left Laidlaw wanting more of that Heineken fizz. For even if the odds are stacked against them - progress to the last eight would almost certainly demand not just a win against Perpignan but an away victory over Munster eight days later as well - the Edinburgh scrum-half and captain's desire is almost palpable.

"These are the tournaments we want to play in and everyone in the club wants to be associated with," he said. "So this is a massive game for us this weekend and we hope we get a big crowd out to support us.

"If we win this game, if we get to put ourselves in a good position and push on later in the game, that would set us up to go over and play Munster and we would still be in the mix to go through."

But wait. It is not time to over-egg the Edinburgh pudding just yet.

Yes, they have made marked improvements since the start of the season, but their last competitive outing was a home loss to a misfiring Glasgow team. Their pre-Christmas wins against Leinster and Gloucester were admirable achievements but, as the Irish side was well understrength and the English outfit have been in a desperate slum, then some perspective is required.

Laidlaw, thankfully, is the kind of level-headed individual who can provide it, but his matter-of-fact approach means he is not inclined to build pedestals for the opposition either. In their most recent Top 14 outing, Perpignan beat struggling Bayonne 20-18, but prior to that they had lost six games on the trot.

The French side were also flattered to beat Edinburgh by a margin of 31-14 at the Stade Aime Giral in October, although Laidlaw was quick to point out that their opportunism that day was still a mark of their underlying quality.

"We were very frustrated," he said of that match in France. "It was a tough one to take. But credit to Perpignan because they came back. They are a tough side to beat, especially at home. They started with a massive pack and then pretty much swapped them and more massive men came on.

"That's where the battle will be this week. It will be won up front so the boys need to get that right to give us a platform to play and hopefully move them around the park.

"If you make mistakes, even slight mistakes, against a team like Perpignan they have a couple of game breakers in the backs who will cut you right open. We were in the lead at half-time, and just past half-time over there, in a tough place to win a game of rugby, and I think it was just two mistakes we made and they scored two tries and the game was over.

"They can still do that here. It is just a rectangle pitch with posts and it doesn't really matter where it is. We need to keep our mistakes to a minimum and if we do that then I think we will put ourselves in a position to go on and win the game."

Contextual targeting label: 
Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

204552