Rugby: Triumph in Paris set De Luca’s pulse Racing

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Proud Nick De Luca has hailed the “highlight” of his European Rugby career as being a last-gasp away win for Edinburgh over Racing Metro in Paris to set up a dramatic climax to the qualifying group at home to London Irish on Sunday.

But, at the same time, the streetwise De Luca – he has appeared in 25 of Edinburgh’s last 29 Euro outings and boasts wins over Leinster, Leicester, Bath and Ulster amongst others – draws on heavy Heineken Cup experience to warn colleagues to keep their feet on the ground based on conceding more points than they have scored in matches.

“Winning at Racing was definitely a highlight,” said the Scotland centre of a 27-24 win only sealed by Phil Godman’s last gasp drop goal. “We were all pretty excited at the end and there was a lot of relief as well. You could tell what it meant to boys to be guaranteed European rugby after the Six Nations Championship, guys who are both new to the club and those who had been here for years especially as we had become used to dropping out of contention by the halfway stage.”

In fact, Edinburgh are now automatically included in the second-tier Amlin Trophy as one of the third to fifth best group runners-up if they fail to reach the quarter-finals of the premier event. But the big prize is unquestionably the aim and any sort of win this weekend should be sufficient albeit one complicating factor could be a double bonus point loss for Ulster at Clermont Auvergne and even then provided there are wins for the other challengers.

De Luca rightly says Edinburgh can only concern themselves with achieving another win and worry about permutations later but while immensely proud of his team’s record a negative points differential is a nagging concern. “We actually have a minus points difference (-5) even though we are top of the table,” he added, aware that the hit was taken in an 25-8 setback at Cardiff just before Christmas. That defeat was subsequently remedied in the home leg but De Luca admitted: “We trust ourselves to score points; we just need to stop leaking points.”

At the same time, he was able to highlight Edinburgh’s ability to pull close matches out of the fire – two by a single point – as a virtue.

“We seem to have the winning mentality in Europe. Obviously our record in the Rabo Direct Pro 12 League has been pretty poor. For example, Glasgow we should have put away at home and they had the knack of closing out a pretty tight game against us at Firhill. But to come out on top was a great relief at Metro especially after another tight game. That was only the second time we have won in France (in the Heineken Cup) after Castres three seasons ago. But that Castres result meant nothing in the end.

“Racing Metro wanted to get one back at us after we beat them at Murrayfield and that only made it more impressive that we managed to get the result. We have been buzzing since we posted our first away when and we thought this could be the season to get through and do something special.

“We have kept on track and have always put pressure on ourselves which is the biggest kind of pressure . We did not play well against Ulster in our last home league game when the performance was unacceptable. We have got to right those wrongs.”

As for building on the away win in Paris, he said: “We were desperate to get that fourth try and a bonus point to put us out there on our own ahead of Cardiff (who would top the group by virtue of a better scoring aggregate against Edinburgh over two legs provided they achieve an identical result or better this weekend). It wasn’t to be but we knew we could score points and just kept plugging away in the knowledge we have team structure and individual brilliance to get across the line.

“Hopefully, too, it will help Scotland that we are competing under pressure right up to the Six Nations which can only be good for us.”