Returning to the Edinburgh set up last week; Edinburgh fly-half Greig Laidlaw has had time to reflect upon the lessons learned from what can only be described as a lacklustre 6 Nations campaign with Scotland. “It obviously was not a good Six Nations but you cannot change that now, unfortunately. And I am very much looking forward to this weekend.”
Re-joining his club has been a welcome change for the half back, who seemed frustrated with his international performances: “I think with all things, when it does not go well, it is good to get a change, I think that is actually what kick-started our Heineken Cup campaign right the way back at the start. We were struggling in the league and the Heineken games were coming up and they really refreshed us as a team, and now we are in a really good position.”
Going into what will be one of the biggest games so far for most of the young team against Toulouse, Laidlaw knows that the international comings and goings do have an effect on the team mentality: “Maybe this time is slightly different, as the team itself has changed with a lot of the players coming back off of international duty. We had a good win on Friday night (against the Scarlets), and we talked throughout the week last week about building momentum and making sure that we take that through this week and into the weekend.
The prospect of playing Toulouse is exciting; as a group of players and as a club, these are the games that you want to be playing. There is a fantastic crowd coming along to Murrayfield this weekend, and it is great for us to see the support that is out there and we are looking to do them proud this weekend.”
With 31,000 tickets sold so far, a record for a club game in Scotland, the attendance could rival that of an international game: “Certainly this game is going to be different, running out with Edinburgh in front of a crowd of 30,000. The intensity will be up there this weekend. It’s the quarterfinals of one of the best tournaments in the world, in a rugby sense. There is a lot of pressure though that comes with that, but as a team we are all looking forward to playing in that. It is going to be a great occasion.”
“Personally, I have been involved in some high-pressure games and a lot of big games with Scotland, and now I am playing in one for Edinburgh. I am hoping that I have learnt from my experiences in the international set up and bring that back to the club.”
“I think that with the kind of players that we have, and the attitude that we have in the squad, we can play out the full game. There is a belief in Edinburgh, and a belief in the squad that when these games are tight we can trust our techniques and stick to the systems that we have put in place and they will be good enough to win us the games.”
So far in the Heineken Cup this has proved to be the case, Edinburgh have fought back and held strong against some much bigger teams. Although this has not quite translated into their performances in the RaboDirect Pro12, the Heineken Cup mentality is starting to creep in.
“Unfortunately we have not quite put our finger on why there is the difference between our performances. We do not want to be in the position where we are lower down in the league, but we still have a few games left to try and build and get much higher up, and that is the aim when we go back to the Rabo. At the minute we are very disappointed with our league form.”
Given that the last time Edinburgh qualified for the Heineken Cup quarter finals was in the 2003-4 season (they lost away against Toulouse 36-10), they are not the normal breed of team that Edinburgh face in the RaboDirect. “They have a brace of top quality international players, players who really are at the top of their game. The French sides always have a strong set piece, strong lineouts, so we will really need to hammer home and concentrate on counteracting that.”
It is clear that this qualification means a lot to Edinburgh as a club, but it also gives a much needed morale boost to Scottish Rugby, which has not enjoyed the best of years. “I think it would send out the message that Scottish Rugby is a force to be reckoned with when we get things right. Sometimes we can get too carried away, and for this weekend it is important to focus on the game at hand and worry about that alone. To get the win on Saturday would reinforce that.”
Edinburgh Rugby have a dedicated crowd of followers: the Red and Black Army, who turn up week in week out to cheer on the team. But this match has attracted the interest and the support of the Scottish nation, with fans coming to watch from rivals Glasgow Warriors, as well as the travelling support from all over the country. “It really means a huge amount to us as a group of players and a club. It just shows that if the club is going well and winning games then there is support for us, and we are just very thankful for that.”