Grant Gilchrist urges Edinburgh to do ‘something special’ on return home to fight on two fronts

Edinburgh’s narrow loss to the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday left the tourists with a sense of frustration, but there’s still plenty to play for this season and captain Grant Gilchrist has urged the players to achieve “something special”.

Gilchrist believes the depth of the capital club’s squad means they are equipped like never before to chase success on two fronts.

After plundering five points from their two-game South African mini-tour, they remain in the play-off positions in the United Rugby Championship and are also through to the knockout stages of the Challenge Cup.

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They host Pau in their final group match of the European tournament on Friday, knowing a win would guarantee them a home tie in the last 16 and also the quarter-finals, should they progress.

Edinburgh stand-off Blair Kinghorn breaks forward with support from Ben Vellacott during the 15-9 defeat by Emirates Lions at Ellis Park. Picture: David Gibson/Fotosport/Shutterstock

Edinburgh have not lost a competitive game at the DAM Health Stadium this season and now have a run of games there which offers the opportunity to stake a claim in both tournaments.

“We want to do something special this season and make the play-offs in the URC, but also get as far as we can in Europe and that will require a home win on Friday night to get a home tie in the last 16 and put ourselves in a position where we can go really deep in Europe,” said Gilchrist, ahead of the long flight back from Johannesburg.

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Edinburgh’s final three games of the regular URC season are all at home, against Zebre, Ulster and Glasgow. A top-eight finish will secure a play-off place, while top four guarantees a home quarter-final.

“I genuinely believe we’ve got the best depth we’ve had,” Gilchrist said of the group of players assembled by head coach Mike Blair. “Rarely has the same squad been played week after week under Mike. There have been lots of changes, lots of rotation and we’ve generally been really consistent.

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“We’ve said all along that if this is going to be a good year for us then it’s going to need 45 to 50 guys, not 15 or 23. It’s crunch time. We’ve got three games left in the URC and in Europe we’re pretty much straight into knockout games, because if we beat Paul we’re into the last 16 which is massive. The week after is ‘go time’ – it’s big games that we’ve got to get right. We’re unbeaten at home and want to keep that up for the whole season.”

Edinburgh may have lost 15-9 to the Lions in Joburg, but they at least picked up a bonus point to add to the four they won the previous week by beating the Sharks in Durban.

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They led 6-5 at Ellis Park, thanks to a monster drop goal from Henry Immelman and an Emiliano Boffelli penalty and appeared to be in a good position to kick on and win the game when Blair Kinghorn crossed early in the second half.

However, an earlier infringement by Ben Vellacott saw the score chalked off and when the impressive Vincent Tshituka added to Jordan Hendrikse’s first-half try shortly afterwards, the momentum swung to the Lions.

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Boffelli and Hendrikse exchanged late penalties and Mark Bennett went agonisingly close for Edinburgh near the end, but the hosts held on for victory.