Inevitably there was some apprehension around Murrayfield when, within minutes of Edinburgh clinching Group Two of the latest Heineken European Cup campaign, the draw paired them with French giants Toulouse in an upcoming quarter-final.
Only the foolhardy would regard a clash with the four time winners – albeit at home – as anything less than challenging, even for an Edinburgh team playing with elan as well as gritty determination. But closer examination of the record books show there is every reason to be upbeat.
Toulouse’s recent record in Europe reveals that they are anything but formidable on the road:
2011-12: Away loss to Gloucester.
2010-11: Away loss to Wasps.
2009-10: Away loss at Cardiff
2008-09: Home defeat to Glasgow.
2007-08: Away losses to Leicester and Leinster.
2006-07: Away losses to Ulster, Scarlets and London Irish.
Over the years Edinburgh and Toulouse have met 11 times and while there has only been one Scottish victory, there have been near-misses. It all started in, would you believe, Easter Road football stadium back in 1998 when Edinburgh went down 25-29 but scored four tries – by Matt Proudfoot, Craig Chalmers, Graham Shiel and Stuart Lang.
Season 02-03 saw the teams clash at Meadowbank and although the 9-30 scoreline in Toulouse’s favour looks convincing Edinburgh led 6-3 at the interval and much hinged on a disallowed ‘try’ reported as follows by the Evening News: “The final straw came with the decision by ref David McHugh that [Todd] Blackadder hadn’t grounded the ball over the Toulouse try-line. ‘Yes, I thought I’d got the try but what matters is the ref never awarded it,’ said a clearly disgruntled Blackadder.”
The 2003-04 season brought Edinburgh’s much acclaimed 23-16 win over Toulouse and had a late conversion attempt of a Brendan Laney try not hit the Meadownbank goalpost, the visitors wouldn’t have earned a losing bonus point and the quarter-final wouldn’t have brought a re-match in France!
Losing bonus points were Edinburgh’s fate in the 05-06 (13-20) and 07-08 (15-19) instalments in the Capital and in the first instance the try count was shared (through Mike Blair) while, two years on, touchdowns by Nick De Luca and John Houston – a hero of Sunday’s clincher against London Irish, pictured – showed the Scots could find a way over the whitewash more than Toulouse. Glorious failure – or reason to abandon any sense of inferiority?
What is striking about the statistics is the crowd figures for the five previous Capital encounters were 3000, 4372, 3520, 4074 and 3393. Especially with an enlightened – common sense? – policy that keeps ticket prices at the normal rates then, come the first weekend of April, the highest of those attendances could even be quadrupled at the very least.
Welsh will be sadly missed
In a sporting context it is maybe only the rugby aficionados of the Capital who would be aware of Peter Welsh, a flanker from Leith Accies who represented Edinburgh District in the 1970s.
But Peter, who died this week in his 60th year after a long battle against illness, was in the generation who enabled rugby to become something approaching mainstream.
He’d never played rugby until entering Leith Academy but tried it, liked it, and found he was a bit more than useful. All over the country during this period there was others in roughly the same boat and gradually the state sector boom provided a platform from which playing resources and interest spiralled to the point where there came a World Cup and with it professionalism.
Peter bore his illness with stoicism and some humour remarking in the early days that it “put training at Hawkhill on a cold winter’s night into perspective” and comparing his diagnosis to a “tap tackle from behind.” Scottish Rugby owes Peter and his like . .
Welsh’s funeral will take place on Saturday at Warriston Crematorium’s Lorimer Chapel at 10am.