EDINBURGH Rugby coach Michael Bradley has sounded a rallying call ahead of a new Rabo Direct Pro12 season starting tonight against Munster at Murrayfield, insisting: “Judge us on competitive form.”
That was a reference to how Edinburgh had failed to register a try in two warm-ups, but Bradley believes that the time to deliver is now.
“Our targets will be to get into the business end of both the Rabo and the Heineken Cup,” said former Ireland scrum-half Bradley, adding: “We would like to be competing in the finals and would like to win. That is where we are setting our stall out.
“We are now into the competitions and should be judged on that.
“I was disappointed with the overall result last week [3-54] when Northampton were very strong.
“On the other hand, we got everyone we wanted on the pitch in that game and also at Newcastle the week previously.
“We got out of the pre-season enough to not change our mind in terms of possibilities for this year.”
Edinburgh’s real journey starts tonight with a line-up that includes seven players who were capped either in this year’s Six Nations or summer tour, while there will also be five competitive debutants.
“Our newcomers have settled in well and it is important they get a first competitive fixture over as quickly as possible and give them a taste of Edinburgh colours,” said Bradley, adding: “It’s at home as well, which is good.
“I’m excited myself as a coach to see how these guys will go. The overriding feeling at the moment is excitement and expectation. The possibilities are there for Edinburgh rugby. We’ll see how we deliver.”
In some respects, Edinburgh could be said to be on a hiding to nothing with Munster holding back players who toured New Zealand with Ireland recently, apart from second row Donncha O’Callaghan and sub Mike Sherry.
A former Munster player himself in the 1980s and 90s, Bradley is keen to keep Edinburgh focused, especially with the teams drawn together in the same Euro pool.
“I think it is a good Munster side. From the back-line you are going to be missing [Conor] Murray, [Ronan] O’Gara and Keith Earls, but the guys they have instead are quality.
“Up front we could be facing their starting front row for Europe and Donncha O’Callaghan will be there with James Coughlan at No.8.
“If there is a bit of shadow boxing at the start, there will be plenty of battles with Munster this year.
“It is important we win and also important we play well. We are at home and that does give us the advantage. We have a lot of quality on show. The expectation is that we should be able to deliver.”
Bradley also suggests Edinburgh have kept a lot of powder dry while studying a Munster side that has a new coach in kiwi Rob Penney
“We’ve looked at their two pre-season matches and Munster are playing a lot wider.
“When it comes to competition, will it still be that type of game? We’ll get a bit of an answer tonight, but the Heineken Cup ties are too far away to read too much into that aspect of things.”
Due to make his first appearance for Edinburgh since making a Scotland debut is Tim Visser and, remarkably, the winger is hoping to be top league try-scorer for a fourth consecutive season.
Has even Bradley been surprised by the way Visser continually steps up?
“Tim is an exceptional athlete in terms of the size of the man as well. He has a lot of positives as a person and player.
“He puts pressure on himself and is still working on his game. Going forward he is excellent. Defence-wise it is a work-on at the moment. But Tim is aware of that.”
According to Edinburgh centre Nick De Luca, all the Scotland contingent have a spring in their step after the three summer tour wins.
Says De Luca: “It is easier with no demons. It was good to get those three wins and while we weren’t delighted with our performances we got the wins.
“It is about taking momentum forward and before last season started if somebody had said we’d reach the Heineken Cup semi-final we would have taken it. Having been there, we felt there was more in us.”
On his 113th competitive appearance for Edinburgh, De Luca has formed a few different centre partnerships, but for the first time he lines up alongside ex-All Black Ben Atiga, even if wingers Lee Jones and Tim Visser are familiar colleagues from Scotland duty.
De Luca also looks forward to bringing a link-up with Visser which flourished in the South Seas this summer back to Edinburgh, remarking: “One on one, Tim is such a special athlete. He is so big and strong and so fast it doesn’t matter if you know what he is going to do. He is still going to run over you.
“He is an amazing talent and a great player. I don’t think there will ever be a season where he drops off.”