Edinburgh Rugby captain Greig Laidlaw has vowed to keep nurturing Harry Leonard as the emerging stand-off prepares for his fifth start in six outings against Aironi at Murrayfield in the RaboDirect Pro 12 league tonight.
A feature of the season so far has been the way Leonard has slotted into the professional scene, the odd hiccup apart.
Recognising that it could never be all plain sailing for any 19-year-old at this level, the twice-capped scrum-half Laidlaw said: “Both Harry and Gregor Hunter, who has also played stand-off for Edinburgh this season, are good talents and if they can get coached now and really nurtured they will be great assets for Scottish Rugby.
“Obviously I have played more with Harry and from the first game he was outstanding – a real old head on young shoulders. He’s struggled a couple of times but that’s what happens and if players like him can get coached now playing pro rugby it will make a huge difference for Scotland. In Australia and also Wales for that matter they don’t worry about a player’s youthfulness. Rather they think ‘here’s a guy playing well so let’s put him in now’. For me that’s a great way to go.
“Of course, you can’t just chuck them in because they’ve had two good games. But Harry was man of the match against Treviso and I’ve been impressed with his ability to run the game, especially with his kicking, which keeps the forwards on the front foot. He is quite laid back and when he’s on his game he always seems in control.”
Chris Paterson continues to work his way back from a hip knock which suggests Laidlaw will continue goal-kicking although he played down what seemed a moment of inspiration last time at Murrayfield when attempting what proved a match-winning conversion against Racing Metro from the same touchline spot he’d taken another kick minutes earlier.
Rejecting the idea he’d shrewdly sacrificed a position five metres infield because he’d established his range, Laidlaw insisted: “If anything I had been trying to steal a couple of yards and I’m pretty sure the ref moved me back. I’m just pleased the kick went over but that game is history and you are only as good as your last game, which was a defeat by Munster.”
Actually, the range-finder ploy is illegal – proving with his answer that Laidlaw is even shrewder than first credited?
Among the Edinburgh changes, one Visser brother, Sep, drops out as Tim returns and the alteration comes at a time when another member of the Denton clan is beginning to appear on the rugby radar. Back row star David Denton has confirmed the potential of his 16-year-old sibling, Jack, who will be visiting the Capital over the festive period from the family home in Zimbabwe.
“My brother is starting to make his way in school rugby and is mad keen on the game. When he develops a bit physically he’ll be a good player,” said Denton senior, whose return to the ranks after a head knock against London Irish in the Heineken European Cup three weeks ago cannot come quickly enough for him.
“The toughest thing for me was sitting on the sidelines watching the boys train. It felt like I was slipping behind all the time. I felt I was losing something and that was more painful than the actual collision,” said Denton, of an incident that subsequently saw Shontayne Hape cited and banned for four matches after a tackle deemed to be high. “It was very unfortunate. Whether it was deliberate or not it was tough as it was not a nice way to miss big games against Racing Metro and at Munster. We’ve still to play London Irish at Murrayfield but there’s no ill-will – if I went in looking to get him back that’s when mistakes are made.”
Nevertheless, Denton is not averse to a bit of revenge on the team front. “We must put Europe to one side for the visit of Aironi. It’s a big one for us to get one back at them because it hurt us losing out there. It’s a massive match in terms of getting one back at them. The league position (third bottom) is not where we want to be. So, we start our revival now.”
Michael Bradley’s selection sees prop Allan Jacobsen equal the Edinburgh league appearances of currently injured hooker Andy Kelly on 125 and the coach paid tribute to the 33-year-old. “You only have to go back to the Racing Metro game and Chunk was one of the guys, along with Esteban (Lozada), who carried the fight to them in the last 20 minutes,” he said. “He seemed to have more energy in that game the longer it went on. He did his job playing well for Scotland in the World Cup and came back to put his head down with Edinburgh. He is a pleasure to work with.”
Suggestions from the Scottish Rugby Union owners are that Edinburgh have already broken their seasonal league attendance record (3580) with advance sales and Bradley acknowledges a feel-good factor from the last home game when Racing were beaten 48-47 while expressing disappointment at losing in Munster.
“The Racing match last week gave everybody as lift .. there was plenty of drama,” he said. “But in Munster we just didn’t close the game out after being 13-5 down at half time then 13-10 with the elements. We were in a very good position.”