Gloucester could stand in Edinburgh’s way again

Key Gloucester men Jonny May and Charlie Sharples celebrate at the final whistle as the Edinburgh players contemplate defeat
Key Gloucester men Jonny May and Charlie Sharples celebrate at the final whistle as the Edinburgh players contemplate defeat
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Edinburgh could have a swift opportunity to exact revenge on Gloucester after the agony of Friday’s 19-13 European Challenge Cup final defeat.

The Cherry and Whites’ victory secured them the English Premiership’s place in the play-offs system for a place in next season’s elite Champions Cup. In it they will first play the seventh-placed team in the Guinness Pro12 – which is currently Edinburgh – and then the winners of that would face the eighth-placed team from the French Top 14.

Edinburgh are a point behind sixth-placed Scarlets and four ahead of Connacht in eighth. Their final two Pro12 games are away to Newport Gwent Dragons – the team they routed to reach the Euro final – this Friday and then home to deposed champions Leinster, who have nothing left to play for, on the final Saturday of the regular season. Scarlets’ final fixtures are Cardiff at home and Treviso away. Connacht finish up with Zebre away and Ospreys at home. On paper, you would have to say the Welsh side would be favourites, which, assuming Edinburgh hold on to seventh spot, would see them facing Gloucester.

Edinburgh skipper Mike Coman said of the potential rematch: “Our first goal is to finish sixth but if that does happen it would be nice to get another shot at them.”

Coach Alan Solomons said he was confident his players would bounce back from the pain of losing the final and be firing for Friday’s huge match at the Dragons: “The one thing we have prided ourselves on is our resilience,” said the South African. “The guys are determined to see the season out in style. But it’s never an easy game at Newport and after what happened in the semi they will look to make it tough for us.”

Solomons was quick to admit it had not been a great performance by his troops but praised the resilience shown. It was not the greatest of games, with cup-final nerves affecting both sides, but it was compelling and great to see a Scottish side involved in this type of occasion. The Edinburgh fans played a vocal part in a raucous atmosphere and will surely now have a taste for more.

Edinburgh were ultimately outclassed in the final for long periods and could have been dead by half-time. But they were brave, hung in there and, following the red carding of Gloucester’s Bill Meakes, got themselves to within a converted score of glory. The bad habit of making mistakes at crucial times resurfaced, though, and a penalty was conceded while pressing in the Gloucester 22 with seven minutes left.

Solomons’ two-year deal is up at the end of the season but he has spoken of his desire to stay and it is expected this will be clarified soon. Some rebuilding will be required, off the pitch as well as on. Edinburgh’s back-room staff is currently dwarfed by Glasgow’s, with Solomons’ assistant, Stevie Scott, also covering the roles of forwards and defence coach.

When looking back at his two years up until now the South African has, with some justification, pointed out that in his first season he arrived late and inherited a poorly conditioned squad in a state of some disarray. This season has seen a steadying of the ship, tangible progress and some excellent results. Next season will be when things will be expected to come together – which means operating in the upper reaches of the Pro12 and being competitive in Europe – whichever of the two competitions they end up in.

After all the hype about his battle with young pretender Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw made his point with a controlled display and near faultless goalkicking.

Hidalgo-Clyne reflected: “It wasn’t about me and Greig. Obviously that comes with the game but it was about Edinburgh winning the game and unfortunately we didn’t do that.

“It’s my first final and I’m going to take a lot from it. It was a great experience. We were defending for a long period of time and they got on top of us.”

Laidlaw said: “I’ve still got a lot of mates at Edinburgh so it was tough to see them at the end but that is why I came to Gloucester –to win things.”