Rugby: Boot is on other foot this time for John Yapp

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For Welsh international prop forward John Yapp, being on the pitch with Edinburgh Rugby in the Heineken European Cup, which kicks off this weekend, is hardly a unique experience.

The difference is that having faced Edinburgh three times at Euro level in the past two seasons and claimed an unbeaten record from the fixture, the 29-year-old will now find 
himself in the home 
dressing-room when Saracens visit Murrayfield on Saturday.

“It is going to be a bit strange this time,” admitted Yapp. “I don’t know how the draw worked out the way it did in the Heineken but I did seem to be playing Edinburgh rather a lot in recent seasons.

“Add in the RaboDirect PRO12 League matches and there were times when I faced them four times a season.”

In 2010-11, Yapp was part of the Cardiff team that edged past Edinburgh 18-17 at the start of the group stage and he was involved from the outset in a 21-14 win when the reciprocal fixture took place.

Last year he came off the bench to help Cardiff win 25-8 in Wales but was rested when Edinburgh balanced the books on their way to eventually reaching the semi-final.

Clearly there was ample 
opportunity for the Scottish Rugby Union bosses who control the Edinburgh purse strings to take note of his talents and this summer they stepped in to lure him north with a contract offer.

What they got was a vastly experienced campaigner ready to contribute not only the benefit of 21 Welsh caps, including a part in a Grand Slam, but someone who is entering his second decade of Heineken Cup rugby and all that entails.

Of the current Edinburgh squad only one-club man Allan Jacobsen, who debuted on November 19, 1999, and Andy Titterrell, whose first appearance, for Sale Sharks, was on October 11, 2002, can match that type of durability.

“Fair play to Chunk (Jacobsen). To have 70 Heineken Cup appearances to his name is some achievement,” said Yapp.

If Jacobsen got off to a winning start with a 23-18 win over Grenoble at Galashiels it was a European baptism of fire for Yapp, who cut his European teeth on January 18, 2003 in a Cardiff team thrashed 75-25 at Biarritz.

“I was a youngster getting my first taste of the biggest tournament outwith international level and I learned early about the atmosphere and level of expectation that surrounds it,” he recalled.

“Biarritz were one of the big guns of that time and part of my apprenticeship, too, was coming up against a Leinster team on their way to becoming powerhouses in Europe.”

Fortunately things got better. Much better. Along the way to 35 appearances, almost exactly half from off the bench, Yapp featured in some remarkable highs with tries against Stade Francais in Paris and Leeds Tykes boosting his CV.

“Games that stand out include beating Toulouse and also reaching a semi-final with Cardiff to face Leicester Tigers (who won 7-6 on a penalty shoot-out when the scores finished tied) while I was part of the Cardiff team that won the Amlin Trophy,” he said.

“It was the second tier tournament and I’d rather have been in the later stages of the Heineken. Nevertheless, we went into the Amlin after missing out on the knockout stages of the main event and went all the way through to tackle Toulon in the final at Marseille.

“What an occasion that was, with 500 travelling fans and 49,500 supporting Toulon. Yet we managed to beat them and I can say with some pride I have a European medal to my name.”

But what have experiences of facing Edinburgh taught him that can be put to use this weekend?

“When facing Edinburgh you always knew it would be a fast and expansive game,” he said.

“Edinburgh have always been a good attacking side so we knew to expect a tough time fitness wise with a lot of running. Last season our Blues team won in Cardiff but the next week 
Edinburgh did a job on us.”

The message from Yapp is that he has seen close-up how effective an expansive Edinburgh can be and, especially having encountered Saracens in an Anglo/Welsh cross-border event a few years ago, that is exactly the type of high tempo approach he would 
subscribe to this weekend.

“The more we run it expansively the better our chances, although we have been mixing it up a bit this year,” said Yapp.

Should he get the nod on Friday, too, when coach Michael Bradley names his line-up, it will maintain an unbroken connection with Edinburgh this season. Having appeared in every match to date with his record divided between three starts and a similar number of appearances from off the bench, this makes the man from Llantwit Major a key figure.