Edinburgh bid to send Laidlaw out on home high

Greig Laidlaw is still in with a shout of the golden boot. Pic: SNS/SRU

Greig Laidlaw is still in with a shout of the golden boot. Pic: SNS/SRU

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Departing Edinburgh Rugby skipper Greig Laidlaw will go into today’s clash with Munster at Meggetland with encouragement from coach Alan Solomons ringing in his ears. And the 28-year-old scrum half will have the added incentive of seeking success with the boot that could edge him closer to signing off with a trophy.

Laidlaw, who will be making his final home appearance before moving to Gloucester in the summer, returned to the fray last week, refreshed after a five week lay off designed to help him prepare for next year’s World Cup.

He currently sits fourth in the RaboDirect PRO12 kicking charts having landed 23 of his 28 shots on goal to give him a success rate of 82.14 per cent in the race for the Rhino Golden Boot, which is awarded to the kicker with the highest percentage of successful place kicks during the regular season. Currently heading the leader board with 87.27 per cent is JJ Hanrahan, the Munster stand off who will be looking to tighten his grip on top spot before the final round of fixtures.

Solomons has urged his players to mark Laidlaw’s farewell in style, saying: “We are motivated by the fact that it has been a very tough season and we would like to finish our home campaign on a good note by delivering a good performance, for Greig and for our supporters in this last home match.”

The coach has named a back division that is unchanged from last weekend’s defeat away to Glasgow. That means a 50th appearance in Edinburgh colours for Matt Scott. The 23-year-old will be looking to extend a four-match scoring sequence, although he is happy to forego personal glory for team success and believes the Capital side can emerge with the win.

“If we put in a performance like we did against Glasgow and tighten up our defence in certain areas, we are a threat to them”, said Scott. “The fans deserve a good performance to end the season on. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster season in terms of our results. We’ve had some really good results at home, and away as well, but we’ve been let down by some poor ones.”

Injuries mean Solomons 
has been forced to shuffle his forward pack. Izak van der Westhuizen is an absentee after picking up a head knock last time out. His place in the second row is filled by Dave Denton who combines with Grant Gilchrist against the intimidating Irish duo of Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan.

Denton’s switch suggests that the Edinburgh pack will be better equipped to replicate the flowing game they produced last week, and leaves a vacancy in the back row which will be filled by Tomas Leonardi.

Munster coach Rob Penney has made 11 changes to the side that started in the loss to Toulon on Heineken Cup duty last weekend. And Solomons knows that with the prospect of European glory now gone, the visitors will pose a stern challenge.

“Munster are historically a very resilient team and I expect them to bounce back from that defeat immediately”, he added. “They have made it clear since that game that their attention is totally on the PRO12 and that they are determined to come here and secure a win.”

Thursday’s win for Zebre over Ospreys means the Irishmen already have a place in the RaboDirect PRO12 semi finals. Their objective now is to secure a top two finish that will give them home advantage in the play offs.

Munster will have painful memories of their most recent trip to the Capital – Edinburgh posting a surprise win in the Heineken Cup. And Penney will not run the risk of underestimating Solomons’ men.

“They’re a good side and with a couple of guys back from injury they’ll be even more potent”, he said. “They’ve always been tough in physicality and if it turns into a physical battle they’ve got a lot of strength, power and experience. What they do, they do very efficiently and if we don’t start preparing mentally from here, right now, they can sting us easily.