How does a group of players go from being the whipping boys of the Six Nations, to defeating the most successful Heineken Cup side of all time?
Three weeks after Scotland lost their fifth and final match the RBS 6 Nations 2012 in Rome, Edinburgh made history by becoming the first Scottish side to make the Heineken Cup semi-finals. More than half of the Scotland team that lost in Rome started against Toulouse, who had in their ranks many of the side who faced Scotland in February with an exotic international twist in Luke Burgess and Timoci Matanavou.
On paper this looked a no contest regardless of Edinburgh’s exploits so far in the tournament, yet here they sit two games away from a first European title. What Saturday highlighted was that under Michael Bradley’s guidance, all of the Scottish players who struggled in the Six Nations excel.
Granted the side benefit from Natani Talei’s power at number 8 and the threat of Tim Visser on the wing, but away from the intensity of the Test arena where players are performing not just in one-off battles against their European counterparts, but also for their shirts, Scotland’s players are much improved.
Facing Toulouse might be far from a routine fixture for Edinburgh, but playing together in European competition is not. Therefore the emphasis lies in being able to bring together a squad as quickly as possible before each Six Nations, a process that time has taught us becomes easier as the number of caps grows in a side and players develop experience. Given the youthful new spine of Scotland’s side, featuring Richie Gray, David Denton, Greig Laidlaw and Stuart Hogg, there is cause for optimism.
Andy Robinson may have been much maligned in recent weeks, but could do worse than examining Edinburgh’s systems and integrating players such as Matt Scott and the soon to be repatriated Visser. At times we forget how much a player’s mental preparation and comfort in his environment have a lasting effect on the pitch. The confidence Edinburgh will take from beating Toulouse will have immeasurable effects.