Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley is urging his players to send Chris Paterson into retirement as a winner when the Capital men face Benetton Treviso in the RaboDirect Pro12 at Murrayfield tonight (kick off 7.30pm).
Bradley has selected a starting side featuring Scotland’s record cap, while five others involved in their final game for the club before seeking new challenges will start on the bench. And he wants a positive end to their association with the club.
“There’s nothing on the game itself in terms of being able to progress up the table but we still would like to finish well in front of our fans so it’s the strongest side we could put out,” he said. “We want to finish on a very strong note in terms of the PRO12. The big event is the six guys who will be involved in the match, who are leaving. Chris is one of them. He’s been a favourite son, and hopefully people will come out and wish him all the best and give him a good send off. He deserves it.”
It has been a difficult week for Bradley who had the task of informing several players that their contracts would not be renewed. Imparting that information was, he admits, a difficult task.
“I’m the players’ boss in that sense, so it’s my decision. It’s obviously the most unpleasant part of my job. Of the players we are talking about, the vast majority have been at Edinburgh for a long period of time. They are quality people. There was a lovely presentation on Wednesday night by the lads to the lads. There was a lot of affection there and a lot of respect. But time moves on.” Of the others who are leaving, Mike Blair is ruled out with a shoulder injury, a chest problem keeps Esteban Lozada out of action, Jim Thompson is involved with the Scotland Sevens squad, and Ulises Gamboa has completed his brief spell at the club.
The departing 11 players – Simon Webster has already been forced to call a halt to his career because of recurring injury problems – will be replaced in kind. Indeed, Bradley’s squad for next season will be larger than the group he has had at his disposal since taking the reins last summer, albeit several of the new contracted players are already at the club – Matt Scott, Grant Gilchrist and Harry Leonard having been promoted from the development group to full contracts.
He is optimistic on the outlook for Edinburgh, stating, “There’s a very exciting young set of players coming through and we have to guide them through the muddy waters that is professional rugby for the next couple of years. The net output there could be a very strong Edinburgh Rugby side.”
While the season has been a success for Edinburgh on the European stage, having bowed out with credit in last Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi final against Ulster, fortunes during the league campaign have been at the opposite end of the satisfaction scale for Bradley. He is looking for his men to produce the style of performance that led to an unprecedented run in Europe, rather than the PRO12 fare that has been riddled with inconsistency, and entertain a crowd that he hopes will include many who enjoyed the atmosphere in the previous home game, last month’s quarter-final win over Toulouse.
However, while an end-of-season mood is likely to prevail, he does not anticipate any change in approach from his players, adding, “It’s not in our DNA. There will be plenty of action and plenty of excitement. I suppose we’ll try and get the ball into Chris’ hands as much as we possibly can, so there’s a bit of an objective there as well.
“The lads are very comfortable with what they are doing out on the pitch. I would like them to do something similar to last week but just complete the ‘last pass’. I suspect it will be potentially a little bit looser than it was last week, from both sides. Both coaches won’t be able to control that, but we would still like to see shape in the game and a degree of structure and create opportunities then us be able to convert them.”
The Italians sit fourth from bottom in the table, two places better than the hosts. Coach Franco Smith has named an entirely Italian starting line-up as they seek to avenge a 22-11 defeat against Edinburgh earlier in the season.