Rugby: Harry just might have the game for European opener

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Edinburgh captain Ross Ford believes Saturday’s 22-11 league win away to Treviso can serve as a timely shot in the arm for all concerned ahead of this weekend’s Heineken Cup opener away to London Irish.

Michael Bradley’s troops arrived in Italy having lost five of their opening seven games and already struggling to stay in touch with the leading pack.

Treviso, by contrast, had won four on the trot and were gunning for a repeat of their 31-6 victory in last season’s corresponding fixture.

Against the odds, however, Edinburgh dug deep to grind out a morale-boosting victory which sets them up nicely for Saturday’s trip to the Madejski Stadium. “Obviously coming off a win going into the Heineken Cup changes the complexion a bit,” said Ford. “We couldn’t have asked for a better boost, which we probably needed. We’ll definitely have to step it up again but it’s good to prove to ourselves that we can play in different ways. Granted, it wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win.”

Pretty it certainly was not. As the rain fell in the Venetian outpost, the game quickly descended into an arm wrestle with moments of inspiration few and far between. Amidst the butchery, however, one man stood out like a beacon in the fog.

Nineteen-year old fly-half Harry Leonard kicked five penalties and one conversion and was unanimously voted as the man-of-the-match by the often biased Italian media core.

The Scotland Under-20 internationalist also made the break which eventually led to Edinburgh’s solitary try, touched down by Allan Jacobsen (though officially awarded to Ross Rennie), and cut a poised figure throughout as he marshalled Edinburgh around the park.

“Harry is so composed,” remarked Ford of the young playmaker. “He’s just a young lad but he has stepped up well and he showed great tactical awareness of the game. He ensured that we played in the right parts of the pitch and that we played the game on our terms.”

With scrum-half Mike Blair also a prominent figure on his return to the starting line-up, and versatile Greig Laidlaw an unused substitute, Leonard’s performance has thrown up a couple of tough selection calls for Bradley to mull over in the coming days.

Bradley remarked that “his performance belied his years,” but remained tight-lipped when asked about the possible combinations for the trip to Reading.

“It was all about getting the win, so I’m not going to comment on selection,” said the former Ireland scrum-half.

“We’ll have a look at that when we do our analysis but certainly it gives us a lot of variety and crucially, a bit of confidence going into the week.”

The potential boost to morale cannot be over-played. Prior to Saturday’s victory Edinburgh had not won away from home in 13 months, and much of their early play reflected a team struggling to regain self-belief.

Their scrum, for example, was taken to the cleaners on their first put-in and their use of turn-over ball was uninspiring.

Their defence kept them in it for much of the opening quarter but as they gained a foothold in the game you could sense their collective fortitude increasing.

For a finish, their pack went on to dominate in most areas of play, whilst the backline also showed potential, which should stand them in good stead.

Scorers: Treviso: Try: Nitoglia; Pen: Burton; Drop goal: Burto. Edinburgh: Try: Jacobsen; Con: Leonard; Pens : Leonard 5.

Treviso: L Nitoglia (F Semenzato 70); T Benvenuti (P Di Santo 44-50), E Galon, A Sgarbi (B Williams 51), L McLean; K Burton, T Botes; M Rizzo(I Fernandez-Rouyet 65), F Sbaraglini (D Vidal 51), L Cittadini (P Di Santo 65); A Pavanello (capt), C van Zyl (B Vermaak 65); F Minto, A Zanni, M Filippucci (M Vosawai 51). Subs not used: W De Waal.

Edinburgh: J Thompson; L Jones, N De Luca, M Scott, T Visser; H Leonard, M Blair; A Jacobsen, R Ford (capt), G Cross (L Niven 70), E Lozada (S Turnbull 58), G Gilchrist, D Denton, R Rennie, N Talei (S McInally 54). Subs not used: S Lawrie, K Traynor, C Leck, G Laidlaw, T Brown.