Stand-in hooker Aleki Lutui insists the fact Edinburgh Rugby’s outside hopes of Heineken European Cup qualification will be on the line can be their inspiration in Sunday’s do-or-die return Pool Six clash at Gloucester.
The Tongan internationalist was an eleventh hour replacement for Lion Ross Ford (calf injury) and took heart from the way Edinburgh “won” the second half despite going down 12-23 to the English giants at Murrayfield.
“We put pressure on them in the second half and showed we can score tries (though Greig Tonks and Dave Denton),” he said. “It is definitely winnable, provided we look after the ball better and cut out the mistakes.
“It was one of those games where we made a lot of mistakes, especially at the breakdown and things slipped away as they scored two easy first-half tries.”
The visitors led 18-5 at the break on the way to dumping Edinburgh at the bottom of the group, six points off the pace at the halfway stage.
But Lutui maintained: “In the first five minutes we scored and showed what we can do with good possession. It’s about reducing the penalty count and looking after the ball especially in their 22. We just need to tighten up our act. It isn’t a lost cause at Gloucester.”
Edinburgh did have their moments especially with a sensational second-half break-out featuring Greig Laidlaw frequently in a mass handling move. Overall, though, they were found wanting and after a trio of home games duffing up the bottom three teams in the Pro 12 League, Edinburgh found it difficult to slow the quick possession which allowed the Gloucester backs to inflict real damage.
By contrast, their own quality of ball was poor and they were so generous it was a reminder of the Santa Run taking place elsewhere in the Capital.
This was never more obvious then when a clearance by Harry Leonard found Jonny May who dodged and weaved from left to right touchline before sending in Martyn Thomas for a try which opened up a 23-5 gap early in the second half.
The ghost of that famous comeback against Racing Metro a couple of years ago did walk occasionally after that but even when Gloucester lost flanker James Hudson to the sin-bin for a professional foul thwarting the 75-metre home counter, Edinburgh still contrived to beat themselves.
For example, beavering away under the visitors’ posts, they ignored overlaps out wide. Compounding that, they then knocked on to let a 14-man defence off the hook before infringing at the resulting scrum and there was an inevitability about Gloucester seeing out the yellow card without conceding.
This was Edinburgh’s 100th match in Europe and on most occasions they have played better, another sign of their inadequacy coming when Jack Cuthbert impeded Greig Tonks when the advancing full-back had called for the catch.
The next time a high ball went up between the pair, neither took charge, leaving the bounce at the mercy of the Gloucester attack. Of course, it was not all about Edinburgh’s shortcomings but when Gloucester had the nous to try to exploit the spacious Murrayfield in-goal area with kicks ahead, some of their success was down to players being drawn infield leaving the defence all at sea.
Really, it was impossible to ignore, this was a Gloucester team who hadn’t won in the English Premiership since September and whose travel had been disrupted by the air traffic controllers’ dispute to the extent they had to hurriedly summon a bus.
In such circumstances, lack of confidence and maybe even fatigue should have been exploited but mistakes and a lack of composure militated against this. In fact, Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons hinted that some of his players might have been affected by the Autumn Test programme and returning immediately afterwards to face Connacht.
“We have got to look at the fatigue factor. There is a certain amount of fatigue in the guys who played in and coming out of the Autumn internationals,” he said. “We have to have a careful look at the squad to see how we are travelling (to Gloucester next Sunday). Bear in mind when one is at the infancy of one’s development, the break – and it’s good that the lads play for Scotland – there is the re-integration. It is not a major issue but it is something that always takes a little while to get right.
“It’s always possible we can win at Gloucester but the odds are stacked against us.
“When you lose a home game it doesn’t mean you are out but it makes it very, very difficult.” It is even conceivable that Edinburgh will prioritise the Pro 12 in case it becomes a qualifying vehicle for Europe next season.
But Solomons conceded it could have been different if Edinburgh hadn’t kept shooting themselves in the foot. He said: “In the second half we had 13 turnovers and added to five penalties – you are not going to win games doing that. The key moment was at 23-12 when we charged up the right touchline and they got a yellow card.
“If we had let the ball go out (to the backs) instead of opting for the pick and go it might have been 23-19 and we would have been right back in it.”
Tonks’ try up the narrow side was the ultimate false dawn as Gloucester found gaps for Rob Cook and Martyn Thomas to touch down on either side of a Freddie Burns penalty.
Burns added another three pointer to put Edinburgh on the brink and crisis-point arrived with the second Thomas try.
To their credit, Edinburgh had the final scoring word by Denton but any hopes of further inroads were dented by infringements and a spluttering line-out.
Edinburgh: Tries – Tonks, Denton. Conversion – Laidlaw.
Gloucester: Tries – M Thomas (2), Cook. Conversion – Burns. Penalties – Burns (2).
Edinburgh: Tonks; Fife, De Luca, Atiga, Cuthbert; Leonard, Laidlaw (c); Dickinson (Blaauw, 57), Lutui (Hilterbrand, 57), Nel. Gilchrist, van der Westhuizen, Du Preez, Denton, Rennie (Grant, 57). Subs not used: Cross, Atkins, Hart, Dominguez, Brown.
Gloucester: Cook; M Thomas, Trinder, Twelvetrees (c) May; Burns, Cowan (Robson, 60); Y Thomas (Murphy, 71), Dawiduik (Edmonds, 50), Knight, Stooke, Hudson, Kalamafoni (Cox, 60), Morgan, Kvesic. Subs not used: Harden, Hicks, Tindall, Reynolds.
Referee: J Garces (France).