Harry Leonard reckons Edinburgh are nearing top form

Harry Leonard pushes past the Connacht defence (SNS/SRU)
Harry Leonard pushes past the Connacht defence (SNS/SRU)
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Harry Leonard insists there is plenty more to come from Edinburgh Rugby in the wake of a season-best victory last weekend.

The Capital outfit go into Heineken Cup action against Gloucester at Murrayfield on Sunday on the back of a 43-10 league rout of Connacht.

That match featured an exhilarating three tries in the final eight minutes, but stand-off Leonard, the only player to have made ten consecutive starts this term for Edinburgh, said: “It was nowhere near the perfect job against Connacht so we are keeping our feet on the ground.

“We have not forgotten that we went down heavily at Ulster the week beforehand. Having said that it was good to get full points against Connacht as reward for the effort we have been putting in.

“We’d been waiting all season for that sort of scoreboard. Not a win by a kick or by less than five points but a resounding win with 30-odd points between the teams. It really lifts morale and has made training this week very good, especially as it is a long ‘week’ with a nine-day turnaround going into the next game.”

Leonard feels Edinburgh are really starting to believe in themselves now that they are gelling as a team. “Confidence in any sport is a huge factor,” he said. “It brings out more belief in individuals. It increases the trust you have in team-mates and makes you surer that a pass you throw out will be caught. Also, you know your back will be covered if you miss a tackle.”

Injuries to Piers Francis and Gregor Hunter, along with the decision to keep Greig Laidlaw at scrum half, have made Leonard a key individual as the only fit stand-off on the books.

“If I’m being cotton-woolled it doesn’t feel like it in training. Continuity is making a difference on a personal level. It’s very enjoyable being in the team and means I can work on my game instead of getting the odd game here and there From a team perspective there has been consistency and that has helped us gel. I’m sure that has been a key factor in the improvement shown recently.”

Edinburgh’s memorable 2011/12 Heineken Cup campaign is synonymous with the development of 21-year-old Leonard. As a teenager he was thrust into a pivotal role for the opening away game at London Irish two years ago and a win that unfolded proved the springboard for Edinburgh reaching the semi-final.

That same season he was still occasionally dropping back into the Boroughmuir club team, but the European experience has given him a taste for the big occasion.

“That European debut is certainly not a game I’m ever going to forget in a hurry – in terms of the result it was one of the most enjoyable I have played in,” he recalled.

Performances during that run may also have contributed to Leonard subsequently captaining Scotland Under-20s.

“I was very flattered to be asked and grateful for the opportunity. From a character-building point of view it works wonders when you have to really drive lads forward and they are looking to you to do it. Given the position I play, captaincy sits quite well and amalgamates into one role.”

Laidlaw captains Edinburgh from scrum-half and the extra vision he gained from playing stand-off in the past possibly helps. What is certain is that he and Leonard are striking up a partnership which is becoming increasingly established.

“I can’t speak highly enough of Greig,” said Leonard. “We go through footage of games together and I bounce ideas off him. Greig’s experience lifts a lot of weight off my shoulders and outside Nick De Luca is one of our form players at the moment as can be seen from the amount of line-breaks he is making. Nick’s defence speaks for itself and shutting out Gloucester will be key this weekend. We know Gloucester like to run the ball from everywhere and will be a serious threat in attack.

“First of all we have to keep building our defence. Having shown we can score tries, if we get that right, we have nothing to fear and a few wrongs from last year’s disappointing run can be put right.”

In fact, Edinburgh have already partially done that with an opening win over two-time champions, Munster, even though some across the Irish Sea have indicated it was a case of the visitors losing rather than the hosts winning the tie. “Munster still had their top team out,” he said. “Certainly there is no getting away from the fact they are an accomplished team but on that day we deserved our win.”

After losing away to Perpignan, the aim is to maintain Fortress Murrayfield and then head to Gloucester the following week with confidence further reinforced and qualification hopes alive.