BY the end of Sunday’s Champions Cup round of 16 clash at the Paris La Defense Arena, it didn’t just look like Racing 92 were in a different league to Edinburgh, it was more like they were playing a completely different sport.

The Scottish side had been reduced to cannon fodder status as the hosts blasted their way to seven unanswered tries in a brutally one-sided 56-3 win.  

Racing are a bona fide superpower of the game and one of the leading contenders to claim European club rugby’s most prestigious prize this season (having been beaten finalists in three of the last five years), so there is no shame in defeat – but the clear gulf in class between the two sides should set alarm bells ringing.  

After all, Edinburgh’s matchday 23 contained 15 full Scotland caps, including 10 players who were involved with Gregor Townend’s squad at some point during the recent Six Nations, plus two Fijian internationals – so fixing the problems which Racing ruthlessly exposed is not just a case of bringing in a few more hired guns. Something far more fundamental needs to change. 

No wonder Grant Gilchrist looked shell-shocked afterwards. His team actually managed to play some of their best rugby of the season during spells of the match, but couldn’t sustain it, and then had no answer for Racing’s pace, power and accuracy when the French side clicked onto gear. All the Edinburgh captain could do was cling to the hope that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 

“It’s always good to experience playing against teams like that,” he suggested.  “It is hard at the minute because I hate losing and certainly hate losing in that manner, but these dark days can be defining moments for teams.   

“This could be a real opportunity for us to see where we need to be better – and clearly that is in a number of areas – but also see areas where we did match up well. 

“When we look back at the game there will be learning points, and we’ve got to move forward.” 

Edinburgh – along with Glasgow Warriors – will now be stuck at home twiddling their thumbs next weekend while the quarter-finals of both the Champions and Challenge Cups are fought out by the real big-hitters in European rugby. 

It is a depressing state of affairs which rather takes the shine off the national team’s historic wins Twickenham and the Stade de France during the Six Nations, and Gilchrist acknowledged that it really isn’t good enough. 

“We went out there to put our game on them – in a one-off contest – and we were second best by a long way,” he conceded. “We gave them exactly what we didn’t want to give them. With the outside backs they’ve got, we knew that they would be lethal with any loose turnovers or transition ball we gave them, and we paid the price.   

“The score-line obviously got worse when we were trying to chase the game at the end but the damage was done by that point. 

“We were in the fight, but when we did get opportunities to put them under pressure, we either made an error at the line-out or lost the ball quickly in the sets.  

“We knew against this kind of defence, when they want the ball back straight away, that you have to hold possession and put them under pressure, but we were too keen to try and make something happen out of nothing, which is a trap you fall into against these good sides.” 

The Rainbow Cup – which has been introduced as a one-off competition this season to help integrate South Africa into the PRO14 after the summer – kicks-off on the weekend of 24th April. Edinburgh’s first match is at home to Zebre, which is hardly the glamourous but at least offers a reasonable prospect of a morale-boosting win. 

“It has obviously been a bitterly disappointing season for us so far, but we now go into the Rainbow Cup and we have to attack that with a fresh attitude,” concluded Gilchrist. “So, we’ll learn the lessons from this match and move on to the rest of the season – we can’t have it hanging over our heads because it is a new competition and we need to treat it differently.”