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Looking towards the season run-in


In his excellent exploration of FC Barcelona’s winning culture (‘The Barcelona Way: Unlocking the DNA of a Winning Culture’) Damian Hughes begins with an anecdote from Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge at the Camp Nou.

During a match early in his tenure, one of his players shot at goal, but the ball went agonisingly wide.  A chance to take the lead was gone.  Guardiola immediately turned round to look at the substitutes sitting on the bench.  He wanted to see how engaged his players were in the club’s cause.  Some had leapt up in anticipation of a score and held their heads in disappointment.  Others showed no emotion. 

Those players who hadn’t reacted did not see another season at Barcelona.  Hughes, consultant to the SRU, spends the rest of the book expanding on what he argues is the most effective organisational culture, whatever the field – what he calls the ‘culture of commitment’.

Looking back at Edinburgh’s last two matches, at home against Cardiff Blues and away against Benetton Rugby, it is difficult not to be frustrated.  In both, they have been in front – well ahead in the case of the Blues – and yet have lost focus and allowed their opponents to come back and snatch the victory.

It is a far cry from their outstanding charge in the second half of last season, where they nicked matches at the death that they really had no right to win.  It was their grit and never say day attitude that so often carried them home.  This season, they are losing the crucial matches that they have done enough to win.

There was some debate after the defeat at Stadio Monigo as to whether or not Benetton’s crucial try in the second period should have been awarded.  It put Keiran Crowley’s impressive side five points ahead with time ticking down and was undoubtedly a turning point.  It was a close call, but Edinburgh could have no complaints that the decision favoured the attacking side.  What they needed to do was put it behind them, dig in and hit back in the 15 minutes they had left to run.

That would have been plenty of time last term.

And there were chances.  Benetton continued to play adventurous rugby, even when ahead – and with only 14 men after Carlo Canna was dismissed following his second yellow card of the match.  I love the ambition that the Treviso men show in attack and they have reduced their error count, so often the Achilles heel of Italian sides.  On the basis of heart alone, they deserved the win.

The Gunners are still not out of the hunt for a playoff slot and qualification for the Heineken Champions’ Cup next season.  They are perfectly capable of winning their final four matches in the Guinness PRO14, two of which are at their fortress home where the mighty fall.  Their final outing will be at Scotstoun and I would back a desperate Edinburgh side to overcome an already qualified Warriors squad.

But success is no longer in their hands.  With every avoidable loss, the chances of a top three finish in Conference B recede further.  There is no doubt that Richard ‘Cockers’ Cockerill has built a culture of commitment at the club since his arrival.  The challenge of the next two months will be to turn that commitment into the results they need to progress in Europe and reach the PRO14 playoffs for the second straight year.