Scots look to buck the trend in Europe
October 6, 2009
Can Chris Paterson steer Edinburgh into the knock-out stages of this season's Heineken Cup? © Getty Images
While most European rugby fans are gleefully rubbing their hands together in anticipation of this year's Heineken Cup, those from north of Carlisle have decidedly mixed feelings about the world's premier club competition.
Only one Scottish team has ever reached the quarter-finals of the event, Edinburgh back in 2004, so defeat and disappointment are the constant companions of Scottish rugby fans.
Each year it's the same. Everyone hopes that Edinburgh or Glasgow will squeeze through in second place (the prospect of a pool win is too much even to contemplate) with a late injury time try that secures the vital bonus point. Each year there is disappointment. Edinburgh finished second in the Magners League last time out but still managed just two wins from six matches in the Heineken and both of them came against Castres. Similarly Glasgow won just two matches although at least one of them was the upset of the season, when they beat Toulouse in the South of France, an afternoon of excellence which only adds to the frustration knowing how good the "Weegies" could be if they hit those heights every time they took to the field.
Only the Italians boast a worse record and now that they are concentrating their fire power in just two franchises who is to say that they won't improve?
Matters are unlikely to improve much for the Scottish teams this season although both have landed in pools that are, at least in Heineken Cup terms, pretty straightforward. Unfortunately Glasgow must find a way past Biarritz who have timed their run to perfection. While Glasgow were earning a hard fought win in Cardiff, Biarritz warmed up for the Heineken Cup with a conclusive victory over French champions Perpignan which propelled them into third place in the Top 14.
Edinburgh were given hope when drawn with Stade Francais since the Parisian giants won just one of their opening five matches under Aussie coach Ewan McKenzie. Now under new management "Paris" is unbeaten in their last four outings and they spanked Brive last Friday night by five tries to one. Ouch.
Stade's budget of €21 million is four million ahead of the second placed team, Clermont Auvergne who have to struggle by on just €18.9 million the poor dears. The four million Euro difference between France's two wealthiest clubs probably equals the entire Edinburgh budget for the season. When it comes to resources there should only be one winner.
The same is true when it comes to muscle. Edinburgh are slight. They have backs like Phil Godman and Chris Paterson who still looks like he'd blow away in a big wind. The two flankers, Alan MacDonald and Roddy Grant, are both specialist "fetchers". The Botswanian-born Grant is arguably the find of the season, a favourite of Andy Robinson, but he's small by any standard.
Meanwhile big Jim Hamilton's welcome bulk and aggression will be found nowhere more dangerous than the sidelines for at least a few more months thanks to ongoing injury issues, he definitely misses the opening two ties of this tournament. If their European campaign comes down to a wrestling match as Heineken ties so often do, Edinburgh don't pack the forward punch to win it.
Glasgow are in a similar boat because they too are missing a big lock in the shape of Richie Gray who is definitely the coming man. Watch this space. At least the veteran fly-half Dan Parks knows how to find the corners even if a one-legged man would give him a hurry-up in a goal-kicking contest at the moment.
Last season 20 points was enough to see Toulouse and the Ospreys through as best runner up so let's do the maths; where are Edinburgh and Glasgow going to find twenty points? Up against Gloucester, Biarritz and the Dragons, Glasgow could conceivably win all three home matches but it's not obvious where that elusive victory on the road is going to come from? The Dragons are their bogey team who have already walloped Glasgow in Wales this season. Sean Lineen's side is notoriously inconsistent and, given the nature this competition, no on can afford a bad day at the office.
Edinburgh have to play Paris, Bath and Ulster whom they have already bested at Ravenhill this season. But home victories against the strength of Bath and Paris are anything but a done deal. If Edinburgh play as well as they can, they could finish second to the French aristocrats but then they will be relying upon other results to determine whether or not they reach the knock out stages. It's the best the long-suffering Scottish fans can hope for… well almost.
Since breakaway Simon Taylor and fullback Hugo Southwell, who have an accumulated 111 Scottish caps between them, both appear in Stade's garish colours this season perhaps Scottish rugby fans will simply switch allegiance. "Allez les Rose!"