Rugby: Edinburgh lifted by the weight of expectation

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Edinburgh Rugby star Sean Cox insists his team did more than book a place in the quarter-finals of the Heineken European Cup and a Murrayfield showdown with Toulouse over the first weekend in April with a stunnning 34-11 victory against London Irish.

A record European crowd for a home Scottish tie of 10,892 saw Edinburgh claim a bonus point with tries from Tim Visser, Jim Thompson, Netani Talei and Lee Jones that took them not only through but to the top of their group and afterwards second row Cox declared: “We have shown we can play under a bit of pressure.”

While London Irish were already out of the running they battled doggedly, particularly at the start of the second half, and, Cox believes, were able to express themselves more freely – something that had to be overcome while dealing with a rare chance to progress to the knockout rounds that was Edinburgh’s only to forfeit after an away win in the same fixture. “When they scored their try (by Jonathan Joseph to cut the gap to 20-11) we knew we had to be careful not to throw away the win by chasing a bonus point that we hoped would take us clear of Cardiff at the top of the group.

“There was no panicking as we stood behind the posts waiting for the conversion; besides, I wouldn’t say it was a fortunate try for them because they worked hard for it but when it is from a kick through it was not like a glaring error by us, and we drew further encouragement from that.

“So, for the next five or ten minutes we kept our hands on the ball and got ourselves back in the game because we knew they were a good counter-attacking team. As we did that we thought about them maybe tiring a bit and thinking about their next couple of games in the (English) Premiership as they couldn’t go through.

“That kept us going until we managed to get over their line a couple more times and, when we heard that Cardiff hadn’t managed to get a bonus point from their win over Racing Metro, we were thrilled to know we would be at home in the quarter-finals as group winners.

“Toulouse are the most successful team in this tournament. It is not going to be easy but nobody expected it would be at this stage. We’ll do our homework. It is just 15 guys on each side at the end of the day.

“I have been fortunate to play away to Toulouse in the Heineken Cup when my previous club (Sale) sent a weakened team and got a bit of a hiding.

“It is not going to be like that in the quarter-finals of this Heineken Cup. We will go out full strength and it is something I’ll look forward to because you don’t play many games like this in your career. We have old guys and young guys in the squad and everyone is looking forward to it equally.”

Cox, who vied with Greig Laidlaw and official man-of-the-match Netani Talei for top honours with his sterling line-out work and trenchant ball carrying which injected steel into the pack, reckons that in one respect it will be tougher for Edinburgh.

“Maybe now people are starting to look at us a little bit more closely which might not be in our favour. We had a surprise element on a lot of teams and used that to our advantage. But I suspect it will be the seventh game in this tournament where nobody gives us a chance.

“However, that’s three wins out of three at Murrayfield in this year’s competition and we’ll be doing all we can to keep it that way.

“We have shown we can play under pressure and also when the pressure is on the opposition which is what it was like when we started out the group at London Irish with nobody expecting much from us.”

On the way to their record try tally in a group – 17 – since first entering in 1996, Edinburgh had to overcome not only the withdrawal of Nick De Luca the previous day when he failed to shake off the effect of a head knock but also the absence of Chris Paterson (groin strain) and Dave Denton (hamstring) at the 11th hour.

Replacements John Houston, Jim Thompson and Stuart McInally fitted in seamlessly however, adding weight to coach Michael Bradley’s rotation policy over the course of the season and Cox felt, in the circumstances, it was important Edinburgh started strongly. This they did with London Irish struggling to lay hands on the ball initially.

Added Cox: “Key was starting well because that settled any nerves we might have had.

“We lost three starters in the 48 hours after the team was announced. It was really important to get the new boys involved in the game. We pushed on from there. It was good to go in at half-time with a lead (20-6) which was something to build on.

“At that stage we weren’t thinking about scoring four tries rather just winning the game. Fortunately we created opportunities and were able to take them. It was a tough game full stop. It was always going to be in this tournament.

“It is going to be tougher from here on but it was great to see a record crowd for a game in which the maturity of a young team not only augurs well for this season but into the future as well.

“First up we have a lot of hard work to do in the Rabo Direct League when the internationals are on and Europe is something we can put on the back burner for a few weeks, but it is great to have Toulouse to look forward to.”

On a couple of occasions it seemed Edinburgh were destined to miss out on a home tie and qualify as one of two best runners-up as the all important fourth try proved elusive.

Firstly, a pass from Roddy Grant to Matt Scott in the build up to a ‘score’ by Tim Visser was deemed forward. Then, after Joseph’s try had rocked Edinburgh, the otherwise impeccable John Houston broke the line only to pass behind the supporting Lee Jones.

There were three minutes remaining when Talei picked up at a scrum and McInally linked to send Jones diving over in the corner.

Edinburgh’s try scoring had started and finished with a wingers as Tim Visser, on his ‘opposite’ flank, had run on to a shrewd chip by Greig Laidlaw who converted to cancel out an Adrian Jarvis penalty.

Laidlaw has impressed for a while as the obvious candidate to fill Scotland’s stand-off jersey and, quite apart from a 100 per cent kicking return, his play-making did nothing to dispel that view. The little general landed another penalty then threw out the pass that put Jim Thompson over near the corner, the conversion a mere formality for Laidlaw in current mode.

Edinburgh had a platform and ironically Joseph’s 66th minute try from one of numerous scrum infringements acted as the spur for a sensational last quarter in which Talei bored over then Jones brought the house down.

Much of the attraction had been to see whether Edinburgh had acquired the knack of closing out tight games or were, in fact, pushing their luck.

The answer was emphatically delivered that this is a team who refuse to give up and very much make their own luck.

Scorers:

Edinburgh: Tries: Visser, Thompson, Talei, Jones. Conversions: Laidlaw (4). Penalties: Laidlaw (2).

London Irish: Try: Joseph. Penalties: Jarvis (2).

Edinburgh: Thompson, Jones, Scott, Houston, Visser, Laidlaw (captain), Blair, Jacobsen, Ford, Cross (Gilding, 72), Gilchrist (Lozada, 72), Cox, McInally, Talei, Grant. Substitutes not used: Walker, Traynor, Rennie, Godman, Hunter, Brown.

London Irish: Armitage, Ojo (Shingler, 57), Spratt (57), Hape, Thompstone, Jarvis, Hodgson (Samson, 51), Corbisiero (Latifi, 51), Buckland (Blaney, 37), Halavatau (Rautenbach, 46), Sandford (Kennedy, 51), Casey (captain), Garvey, Gray, Sisi. Sub not used: Evans.

Referee: P Fitzgibbon (Ireland).

Attendance: 10,892