Rugby: Jack stepping up to challenge in fine style at Edinburgh

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There must be easier ways to make a Heineken European Cup debut than from directly off the bench to lock scrummaging horns with Gethin Jenkins, Wales’ most decorated prop forward with 83 caps and a double British Lion.

But over the past two weekends, 23-year-old Jack Gilding has taken that challenge in his stride when becoming the 160th player to represent Edinburgh in Europe since they first entered in 1996.

Not only that, but Gilding has been able to make contributions in the loose seen to particular effect at Murrayfield last time out when his arrival after 63 minutes immediately saw him drive another experienced Welsh international forward, Bradley Davies, back in the tackle.

“Yes, it was perfect for me just to get on and into the thick of things,” admitted the 19st and 5ft 11in Gilding. “Making a tackle or getting the ball in your hands gets you straight in.

“You don’t have to think how you are going to contribute when opportunities like that arise.

“And I was delighted to get 20 minutes, a solid bit of time to put my mark on the game and put myself about.”

Unquestionably it has taken some time for Gilding to force his way into the frame at Edinburgh but now he is making up for lost time.

A first start came only late last month away to Munster, although the Plymouth-born prospect who is Scottish qualified through a paternal grandmother from Greenock can draw upon four appearances in the second tier Amlin Challenge Trophy with previous club Worcester Warriors, including a start against Spanish side Olympus Madrid.

Gilding added: “The Heineken Cup is a step up from league rugby in particular and I couldn’t ask for anything better than us beating Cardiff to put ourselves top of the group (by virtue of scoring more tries). We are in a position to go through and reversing the previous weekend’s defeat [8-25] shows how confident we are at home.”

In fact, Edinburgh have won seven of their last nine games at Murrayfield in Europe and Gilding added: “Overall if we can maintain our home record and nick the odd away win it is going to be a good season.”

And yet a late Leigh Halfpenny penalty took some of the shine off Edinburgh’s display, as it gave Cardiff a bonus point which could be vital especially if the teams finish level at the top of the group, which is when scoring differential in matches between them would give the Welshmen the edge.

Understandably, Gilding, who was used at tight-head prop to replace Geoff Cross down the home straight, took a pragmatic view.

“It was buoyant in the dressing room afterwards – and a bit upsetting we gave away that penalty to allow them a bonus point. Nevertheless, we’ll take the positives. We’d have settled for that result at the beginning of the day. And we’ve got to be confident with London Irish coming to Murrayfield while we know we can beat Racing Metro even in Paris.”

There was a tell-tale scenario in the final act when Cardiff stand off Dan Parks booted the ball into touch rather than try to spark a late break-out that might have earned Cardiff a draw with a converted try.

Negative thinking, or a case of shrewd analysis by the Scotland star in weighing up the situation to note that if both teams take identical spoils from their two remaining matches, it would be Cardiff who finished top leaving Edinburgh to hope for one of the best two runners-up slots in qualifying?

“They realised they were not going to run it in from 70 or 80 yards so they took the point,” said Gilding. It was frustrating in a way but in the same vein we didn’t want to make any mistakes in the game and throw away what we had achieved.

“Our boys were out on their feet with Ross Ford and Alan Jacobsen putting in great shifts as they had done all season.

“From the front five especially there was excellent effort. They led from the front, matched Cardiff and then beat them physically.

“For me European nights with Edinburgh have been a long time coming but it has been very positive around the club these last few weeks and I’m probably in the best shape I’ve ever been.

“Now I want to build on those outings with a crack at Glasgow on Boxing Day.

“Quiet Christmas? Absolutely – but well, well worth it.”

Indeed, it is surely a measure of the spirit in the Capital camp that Gilding has revealed his big rival for the stand-by prop berth, Lewis Niven, has invited him round for Christmas dinner!