Rugby: Houston ready for Zebre clash after Cardiff heroics

IT SHOULD have been enough to send the bookmakers running for cover the moment 
Edinburgh Rugby coach Michael Bradley named his 
latest line-up.

There on the team-sheet was the name John Houston and if ever there was a player guaranteed to strike terror into Cardiff hearts at the Arms Park it was surely the A international threequarter who reached the pro ranks through the Hawick and Heriot’s clubs.

Sure enough, as the dust settled on a 21-19 weekend win for Edinburgh, Houston was able to reflect on a third straight victory at the legendary venue to follow a 36-14 success in 2007 and an 11-10 cliffhanger a year later.

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Not only that, but in 2009 Houston travelled with Edinburgh to the Cardiff City Stadium where the Blues were beginning a three-year tenancy which ended this season with a return to the more central arena and helped post a 22-21 league win. Adding to the sense that Houston has an Indian sign over Cardiff is the fact that in all three of his Arms Park wins he has been on the pitch for the full 80-minute shift.

However, even the experienced Houston, 29, had never seen anything quite like the manner of the latest success.

“It’s always tough winning in Cardiff and it was another 
really physical game,” said Houston: “However, in support of the new style Edinburgh are playing, we managed to dominate them in the scrum which was awesome to watch.”

Confirming Edinburgh’s frontal supremacy was the fact they were awarded a penalty try with Cardiff adjudged to have deliberately disrupted an 
attempted pushover scrum.

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What’s more, the score came just after Edinburgh had shown depth by sending on fresh props Willem Nel and John Yapp to replace Allan Jacobsen and Geoff Cross.

Added Houston: “Having a strong scrum makes such a huge difference to backs in terms of going forward. It means the ball is coming as you want it and you are not having to adjust to what is happening to the scrum since you can predict what is going to happen.

“On the other hand, a retreating scrum makes it a lot harder in defence.”

There was also a feeling of deja vu for Houston as Greig Laidlaw’s late drop-goal winner emulated a similar achievement by Phil Godman for the single point win in 2008.

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“I don’t know how Phil got the ball out of the mud that night.

“What I do know is that the latest drop goal, which occurred at the opposite end from Phil’s, was really calmly executed by Greig who was marshalling us into position so he could 
attempt his winning strike.

“Greig does that day in, day out at training, so it was great 
to see him do it in a match 

“It wasn’t that surprising either. Greig has been a really composed individual on and off the pitch for a long time. That comes through in the way he plays. When he speaks everyone listens.

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“He doesn’t say a lot, but is concise in what he says. Our whole team has moulded into the way he plays and everyone follows his lead.

“We desperately needed that away win having spoken about building momentum at the start of the league campaign.

“Losing at home to Munster didn’t help, so we set the goal of getting those points back which we did. Now it is about getting on a bit of a run.”

The opportunity arises on Friday at Murrayfield when new Italian franchise, Zebre Rugby, are the visitors, and, by retaining his starting place, Houston would move to within a 
game of a landmark 50th league start.

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“Zebre are a bit of an unknown quantity, but they will be desperate to get a first win and we will be desperate not to give them that,” he says of opponents who have replaced Aironi.

“It has always been high scoring when we have played the Italian teams, so I suspect this might be similar.”

Zebre have had two games so far, losing at Dragons and also at home to Connacht, and Houston believes Edinburgh can have their measure.

“Two games will be enough for us to analyse them. You can tell what they will be likely to do, but we now have to keep it going,” says Houston, who explained last season’s 13-38 defeat at the Cardiff City Stadium, saying: “That was a full strength squad we had out [last weekend] where at that stage of the season we were keeping our strongest team for the Heineken European Cup quarter-final a week later.”