Versatile Edinburgh ace Tonks eyes Munster win

Greig Tonks, right, has been vital for Edinburgh this season. Pic: Ian Rutherford

Greig Tonks, right, has been vital for Edinburgh this season. Pic: Ian Rutherford

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Having started 26 out of 28 matches for Edinburgh in a debut season which culminated in a first Scotland appearance against Samoa on tour last summer, Greig Tonks must have wondered what he could do for an encore.

The 24-year-old didn’t have to ponder long.

With nine of the opening 12 matches this season under his belt, Tonks was required to answer an emergency call to switch from his international position of full back to stand off when regular No.10 Harry Leonard failed a fitness test after travelling to Gloucester for a Heineken Cup tie late last year.

Since then, the ever-reliable Tonks has seen his career go into overdrive to the point where this versatile performer is now an integral member of Edinburgh’s team.

He will be in the thick of it again on Sunday as the Murrayfield outfit head to Munster in search of the win that could take them into the knockout stages of the Amlin Challenge Cup if Scarlets manage even a draw against Saracens.

“There was something to be said for going straight in at stand off and being forced to use my instincts against Gloucester having last played there at ‘A’ team level for [previous club] Northampton,” admits Tonks.

“That way you tend to play more of what is in front of you and not think about things too much. We have a good gameplan at Edinburgh which makes it more straightforward to switch.

“Knowing, too, that Harry was struggling early in the week, I had an eye on him during training all week and part of me was preparing, I suppose because I always felt I had the potential to play at No.10.”

As for inclusion in next week’s Scotland Six Nations training squad, Tonks is intent on remaining level-headed.

“Playing in the Six Nations is not in my hands; I’ll just have to see what happens but I’m getting a good run with Edinburgh to state my case.

“Gloucester was a good start because playing in a winning team always helps and not many teams come away from Kingsholm with the points.

“Actually switching from full back to stand off is maybe not as difficult as moving between other positions.

“As a full back you are trying to read where the stand off is liable to put the ball on the pitch. Conversely, at stand off you are trying to out-think the full back.

“I’m adding to my experience should I return to full back and I have to admit at this stage in my career versatility is probably a big help.”

Tonks is also revelling in the fact Edinburgh have extended their European interest until the final game.

“Although last season was a whirlwind for me, results in Europe didn’t go well,” he concedes. “I scored a try in the away game at Saracens in the snow but there was little to be satisfied about overall for the team, so it is great to be going to Munster not only seeking a win that could take us forward in Europe but knowing we have beaten them already in this competition.

“The last match against Munster, although a while ago, was important for us. We know they are beatable.

“The other side of that is they will want to get one back on us especially at a ground where they have a good record.

“Last weekend’s win over Perpignan to set this game up was also really important.

“We didn’t just scrape by; rather we managed to score three tries.

“After last year’s problems in Europe knowing we can compete is something special.”

Edinburgh’s last five visits to Munster have seen 17 tries conceded, albeit one of those games was played in Cork rather than Limerick.

In many ways, then, this is a litmus test for the new-found defensive solidity, as acknowledged by No.8 Dave Denton, who is also relishing the inevitable physicality.

“In seasons past, we have focused a lot on attack and that has not helped us. Now we don’t go in thinking we need to score four tries in order to win. We want to stop the other team scoring and go from there,” says Denton. “For the team and me in particular this is a match where physicality is at the forefront.

“We go to test ourselves and are looking to get a win which would be great for us.”

The fact that Edinburgh are a force to be reckoned with again is recognised by Munster coach Rod Penney.

Putting his already-qualified side, who need a four-try bonus point to be assured of a home quarter-final, on full alert, Penney says: “They (Edinburgh) are certainly a different bunch than they were four months ago.

“They’ve developed a unity and a toughness that makes them very tough for teams to play against.

“We’ve seen Leinster go down to them, Perpignan, too, and Gloucester away. They should have beaten Glasgow.

“They’re now a legitimate side. Over the last couple of years they may not have been seen as a big threat although they did reach the semi-finals two years ago.

“They’ve got a little recipe going on there. They’ve developed something that’s starting to become a bit special.

“It’s a bit nerve-wracking when you’re seeing it unfolding and from this perspective we could probably do without that now.”