Rugby: Bradley places Heineken Cup demands on Edinburgh

Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley
Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley
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Edinburgh RUGBY coach Michael Bradley today insisted pressure of expectation would be his side’s driving force in the next Heineken European Cup.

And even a group also featuring two-times winners Munster as well as last season’s English flag-bearers Saracens and old rivals Racing Metro has failed to quash Bradley’s conviction that Edinburgh are obliged to improve upon last season’s ground-breaking performance when reaching the semi-final.

“There are expectations to be satisfied now and that will be our driving force” said the ex-Ireland scrum half, adding: “If we are going to develop Edinburgh Rugby’s culture and environment then we need to put pressure on ourselves.”

Many expected a more straightforward assignment for Edinburgh after being seeded into the second of four pots at the draw in Dublin.

But while acknowledging the all-round threat posed, Bradley said: “If we want to win the competition we have to be able to beat teams like those we have been pooled with – and that is very much our mindset rather than trying to win a couple of games, just.

“Last year saw us get to within a few points of reaching the final and that is the standard that has been set.”

Coincidentally, Munster is the province Bradley represented on his way to earning 40 Ireland caps.

Drawing on that experience, he said: “I know the high expectations Munster have for their side which is getting out of the pool stage every time and progressing from there.

“I also know that last season saw them overtaken by Leinster who have now won the Heineken Cup three times to their twice. We will be seen as standing in their way.

“As for Saracens they didn’t have quite as good a season in the Premiership (having been champions in 2010-11).

“But last year saw them become the only English team to reach the quarter finals and in that respect they saw themselves as English flag-bearers.

“Racing Metro I don’t mind being paired with; it was Clermont Auvergne I didn’t fancy but that was never going to happen because of the seeding.”

Key for Edinburgh last season was the momentum generated from a winning start at London Irish. Would Bradley prefer a home encounter to get things under way for the first time in four seasons?

“We showed we could win away last season so it doesn’t matter where we play the opening tie,” claimed Bradley, who will be aware that this group in particular throws up the possibility of dog-eat-dog which would militate against qualifying as one of the two best runners-up.

However, that could open the way to a top placing for the second successive year. While Edinburgh and Racing Metro served up two enthralling encounters last year each of which went to the final play before the Scots took the spoils both Munster and Saracens will be first-time Heineken Cup rivals.

Saracens’ ranks boast Kelly Brown, who was set to become Scotland captain before suffering a leg break, as well as England stars Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt, Mouritz Botha, Charlie Hodgson, Alex Goode and David Strettle.

Munster are crammed with Irish caps including Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell, Keith Earls, Donncha O’Callaghan, David Wallace and Simon Zebo as well as All Black Doug Howlett and Springbok BJ Botha.

However, Edinburgh did beat the men from Limerick at home in the Pro 12 last season, albeit during the World Cup. As for Racing Metro, coach Pierre Berbizier insists: “It’s an attractive group. But it’s the hardest pool we’ve had since we played in the Heineken Cup for the first time two years ago. We’ll play experienced Heineken Cup teams. It’s a little bit like the group of death.”

Assistant Gonzalo Quesada added: “You always know that you’ll get a tough draw in the Heineken Cup. But it’s true that this group is very complicated. We have Munster, who have returned to a high level and the stadium and the incredible atmosphere there, and then Saracens, who have a formidable spine of South African players. And then Edinburgh, who we lost to twice last year in injury time. I hope the other teams look at Racing and see us as a dangerous team, because we showed at times last season that we certainly can be.”