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Little let-up for Bradley as trials continue

If the look on Michael Bradley's face on Friday evening betrayed his suspicion that somebody up there doesn't like him, then a glance at the RaboDirect PRO12 fixture list would have turned that nagging doubt into a cast-iron conviction in the mind of the Edinburgh coach.

It is not simply that Edinburgh's next match, on February 9, is an away trip to Munster, the Celtic rugby equivalent of a paddle in a piranha tank, rather that the journey is to Cork's Musgrave Park rather than Thomond Park in Limerick. Most coaches might prefer the more genteel surround-ings of Musgrave to the Thomond cauldron, but as a Corkman to his marrow the assignment stacks up as a form of cruel and unusual punishment for Bradley.

And just to make matters worse, he will expect to go there without a raft of international players who are otherwise engaged on Scotland Test duty that weekend. Granted, Scotland caretaker coach Scott Johnson might have chalked a few names off that list of possibles as he watched Edinburgh lose 31-16 to Leinster on Friday, but it is still a daunting, potentially humiliating, prospect for Bradley.

Poignantly, it will also take place little more than a year after the whole of Edinburgh was celebrating the side's achievement of a place in the last eight of last season's Heineken Cup. If their subsequent, sensational victory over Toulouse in the quarter-finals, represented a high watermark for Scotland's professional game, it also serves as a stark illustration of just how far the club has fallen since.

The rot did not set in when they lost 45-0 at home to Saracens in the opening match of this season's European campaign, but that thrashing seems to have had a crushing effect on Edinburgh's spirit and confidence. Its critical theme – top players playing well below themselves – has continued and you could argue that it also had a disastrous effect on Scotland's November international campaign, when Dave Denton, Greig Laidlaw and Ross Ford were all far from their best.

Edinburgh have also taken to pressing the self-destruct button early and often. That pattern was clear in their back-to-back 1872 Cup losses to Glasgow last month, and it was all too apparent again on Friday when, albeit after riding their luck for the first 35 minutes, they coughed up two tries in the five minutes before the break and had to force the game from then on.

In fairness to Edinburgh, they appear to have a certain appetite for playing catch-up rugby, but their enthusiasm counted for little as Leinster added two more tries, and a bonus point, to their haul before tighthead prop Willem Nel finally barrelled over the line for Edinburgh's solitary touchdown five minutes from the end.

Nel, slow into his stride when he arrived in Scotland six months ago, appears finally to be coming on to a game. But Edinburgh look underpowered in too many other areas right now. Grant Gilchrist and Sean Cox were marvellously stroppy in the second row last season, but they seem to have lost that devilish edge. They have fantastic resources in the back row, but they have been bullied out of the breakdowns in too many recent matches.

Solace? They now face two Heineken Cup matches, against Munster and Saracens, that are essentially meaningless for them. Bradley, then, has a rare opportunity to experiment with tactics and combinations, although a crushing injury list may limit his options in that regard.

With new players and a much-improved budget, better things were expected of Edinburgh this season. Bradley can hardly avoid the fact that his own future is on the line. It would be a cruel ending indeed were it to be settled in Cork.

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