Harry Leonard steps up claim for No. 10 residence

Coach Alan  Solomons says it's vital Harry Leonard gets a run in the Edinburgh team. Picture: SNS Group
Coach Alan Solomons says it's vital Harry Leonard gets a run in the Edinburgh team. Picture: SNS Group
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Young Edinburgh stand-off Harry Leonard was preparing to enter uncharted rugby territory in today’s Heineken European Cup opener against Munster at Murrayfield.

So far as the tournament itself is concerned, Leonard, 21, is almost an old hand, having debuted as a teenager in the win at London Irish two years ago.

But not since that halcyon period in his career has he started more than four consecutive games for Edinburgh; today marks his fifth straight start in the No 10 jersey.

As the clamour continues to grow for Edinburgh to enjoy stability in the pivotal position, former Boroughmuir star Leonard is adamant the run is contributing to the understanding and confidence-building that is essential if he is to make a positive influence, especially against opponents who have won the tournament twice.

“Getting a settled run is huge,” said Leonard, who showed composure and maturity in slotting the injury-time penalty that gave Edinburgh their only win so far this season, against Dragons, last month.

“It makes such a difference when you get your first, second and third games in a row. You feel more settled and know the structures a bit better.

“It’s sometimes difficult coming back into the team for a one-off and I’m hoping parts of my performance will get better as the weeks progress.”

Despite his tender years, Leonard, whose chance has come through injuries to the unfortunate Piers Francis and Greig Hunter, is in the Edinburgh record books for slotting seven penalties against Scarlets last season, during which he captained Scotland Under-20s.

With that background, it would be no surprise if he started to lay serious claims to the No. 10 jersey on a permanent basis. Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons believes the opportunity is there – especially with the streetwise Greig Laidlaw fit again at scrum-half and offering guidance in the often crucial half-back link.

“It’s very, very important for Harry to be getting a run. His best game for us this season was last week at Cardiff,” said Solomons, adding: “Playing with the experience of Greig Laidlaw really does help him.”

Leonard, for all his growing confidence and the fact he has now joined an elite group who have contributed over 100 points for Edinburgh, is quick to demur to Laidlaw’s place kicking. “Greig is a proven kicker who is very experienced and extremely consistent,” he said. “Who takes the kicks is out of my hands, but Greig is the better kicker so he kicks.”

In some respects, the three-pointer from in front of the posts that killed off the Dragons was a coming of age for Leonard.

“You practise for moments like that,” he added. “I enjoyed that moment against Dragons and maybe, psychologically, it is a lot harder to kick from in front of the posts because everybody expects you to succeed.

“Nowadays kickers are expected to land everything they attempt anyway, and my pre-occupation was to reward our forwards for dominating the Dragons in a way that yielded the penalty.

“Before stepping up, I had to stamp down the turf which was torn up because of the pressure from that final scrum and that helped me stay calm.”

The way Leonard combined with Jack Cuthbert in defence to deny Cardiff’s Alex Cuthbert a late try last weekend has also been noted.

The match might have been lost by that stage, but Leonard was still willing to put himself on the line – though he gives the credit to his colleague for holding up the winger in-goal.

“I just gatecrashed Jack’s tackle,” said Leonard, adding: “A bigger memory was seeing Tomas Leonardi denied a try for us during the first half.

“That was a real turning point. If it hadn’t been disallowed, things could have turned out completely differently.

“That’s the way it goes sometimes and the important thing now is to try to contain the Munster forwards. If we can do that we can get into the game and hopefully make the type of start to the campaign we did two years ago with a win away to London Irish.”

That was when Leonard really came to prominence having been included by previous coach Michael Bradley for what was only his third start.

Much water has gone under the bridge since then, but there has never been a better time for a young Scottish stand off to put his hand up.