Dave DENTON insists a major incentive for Edinburgh Rugby to beat Ulster in tomorrow’s Heineken European Cup semi-final is to set up a “Capital sporting jamboree”.
Well aware that the final against either Clermont Auvergne or Leinster would kick off at Twickenham on Saturday May 19 around the time that either Hearts or Hibs were parading the Scottish football cup, international back rower Denton declared: “It’s great there is an Edinburgh football derby coming up.
“But it would be great for Edinburgh Rugby to impose ourselves on the scene as well.
“We need to do as much as we can to get our fans involved in helping to set up a Capital sporting jamboree.”
For Denton, born and raised in Zimbabwe of Scottish parentage, this campaign in which Edinburgh last time out became the first team in 16 matches to prevent Toulouse scoring a single point for a half (that feat was last accomplished by Cardiff in 2009) has a special resonance.
He said: “I’m definitely conscious of being on a global stage with Edinburgh now.
“In fact, I remember as a 14-year-old watching on television back in Africa as Edinburgh played Toulouse in the Heineken Cup.
“That is when I first started thinking I want to be part of this and planning to pursue my rugby career in Scotland.
“It’s incredible to be part of the club’s history with a chance to go down in the record books as something special.
“Even so, it is not the end for us. Rather, whatever happens, this is the beginning as you can see by the amount the club are putting into re-signings and signings.
“There is a lot of room for optimism in this club and people around the club.”
Denton will also be something of a secret weapon for Edinburgh.
Although he made his debut against Ulster, he has missed the last three league fixtures partly due to international commitments, and recalls: “I’ve only played against Ulster for ten minutes, so, in that sense, it is a bit of a journey into the unknown.
“However, I have played against all of their best players when they were turning out for Ireland [two of Denton’s six caps are against the men from the Emerald Isle] and I’m confident in my own ability to make a difference in this game.”
Such self belief will be crucial to Edinburgh’s prospects as will the desire not to take a backward step.
“Everyone saw how delighted we were after the Toulouse game and to get this far is a really, really big deal.
“But the nature of sport is that when you get somewhere you want to keep going forward. So, nobody is going to be happy if we lose because a semi- final might not be good enough for us even though in many respects the quality is such it will be a Test match without the caps – just as hard and physical.
“Every match you play for your country is a massive one, but so too is playing with the friends and colleagues you train alongside every day.
“And, when you are this close to silverware, there is an extra 10 per cent to be found taking the standard of the club game up even higher.”
Another potential influencing factor is the nous of 29-cap centre Nick De Luca as shown when spotting a player out of position in the build up to an early try which gave Edinburgh encouragement against Toulouse.
Colleagues were quick to credit De Luca with a crucial call and he reflected, saying: “You can’t beat scoring a try in the first two minutes of any match and to do so again would be stuff of dreams.
“We need a good opening ten minutes to let Ulster know we are in this game and to quieten the crowd.”
Toulouse opted to play Test centre Yannick Jauzion at full back and his lack of familiarity in the role was ruthlessly exploited.
“I saw Jauzion close the gap early by moving up into the [defensive] line and shouted for the high kick to be put up.
“We had always wanted to test him under the high ball and there he was coming up into the line with the winger having moved across.
“Others got underneath the kick and a hand deflected the ball to Mike Blair who, fortunately, was coming up fast and got what proved to be a decisive try.”
Another positive Edinburgh took from that quarter-final was their refusal to take a backward step.
“Toulouse came thinking they could just bully us, rumble us away.
“Ulster won’t do that.
“Instead, they will look after the ball and throw it about, so defensively this is going to be the toughest game of the season.”
Much has been made in the build-up of Edinburgh’s contrasting record in Europe where they have won six from seven and league results which, from the beginning of this year, have shown one victory from nine.
There have been three defeats in four games at Murrayfield and they have the worst defensive record, conceding 567 points.
Some 34 points separate Edinburgh from Glasgow who are equally bankrolled by the SRU.
Highlighting the fact the team have shown an ability to score tries – their points tally is the eighth best in the league – De Luca says the chequered form can have an upside albeit they have always sought consistency.
“People will expect certain things from us based on their homework and hopefully we can throw in a few surprises.
“But we have got here on the back of what we do well and we don’t want to change it too much.
“That said, there is scope still despite all the familiarity with these opponents to still produce surprises.”
Coach Michael Bradley is credited with having a few tricks up his sleeves, but, above all, De Luca insists: “This will be about getting basics right and imposing our defence, stopping their big ball carriers and getting in their faces.” Indeed most of the pressure is on Ulster bearing in mind Edinburgh started out the competition at 250-1 to lift the trophy and 12-1 just to top the qualifying group.
Today Edinburgh are available at odds of 5-2 to beat Ulster and 18-1 for the cup. It is quite a journey on the boards of the bookies as well as the pitch.