21 January 2004
The strange thing about Edinburgh's comprehensive win over Leeds Tykes in Yorkshire last Sunday was how routine it was. Sure, it was a tough game. But we expected Edinburgh to win, and they did. The result was never in doubt.
Yet only a few years ago, the prospect of travelling to England to play a Zurich Premiership side would have filled Gunners supporters with trepidation. The team has matured since those days. "Brendan [Laney] has done a fine job in Todd's absence but we are a different side nowadays with more players putting their hands up and accepting responsibility than a few years ago," remarked Frank Hadden, rather perceptively, earlier in the week.
The Gunners' starting lineup for the Ospreys game is unchanged from last weekend's winning team, with Laney's back injury having cleared up enough to allow him to play. The only change to the squad is Simon Cross' return to the bench in place of Ali Strokosh as back-row cover.
The Ospreys are a complete mystery. They have not won since beating Edinburgh in Neath during the World Cup, playing the most attractive rugby that any team has produced against the Gunners so far this season. They have the classic combination of good young players and wise old campaigners, yet are currently spectacularly underachieving, and are under increasing pressure from impatient rugby followers in the Principality. They are too good to be where they are and their barren run must surely come to an end soon, but hopefully not on Friday night.
Ospreys coach, Lyn Jones, said of Friday's game: "We are expecting an extremely tough fixture on Friday night. We are out of the competition and have only pride to play for. Edinburgh are a form team who have performed admirably in the European Cup this season. Challenges do not come any bigger than facing them in their back yard at this time"
The slide rules have been working overtime in an effort to work out how many points Edinburgh will need from their next two games to be sure of qualification for the quarter finals. It appears that if the Gunners were to manage a bonus point win over the Ospreys, which would leave them on 22 points, they would be assured at least a best runner-up place before the trip to France.
Yet it would be unwise to write off the Tykes' chances of toppling Toulouse at the weekend. Though approaching the realms of fantasy, they are not incapable of causing an upset. While the European champions seem to be hitting form, they will certainly struggle to come away from Headingley with a bonus point against a decent side with nothing to lose.
With Edinburgh Rugby opening the Meadowbank terracing on Friday night (£10 adults, £5 concessions), and the Leeds game seeing the Gunners' away support putting in their best-ever performance, the stage is set for a record crowd for what is yet another "biggest game in the club's history".
For EDINBURGH, the pack can lay the foundations for the fireworks from the backs. The tight five will be key in subduing the visitors. For the OSPREYS, the talented Gavin Henson plays stand-off, with Storey and Tiueti occupying the centre berths, a problem area for the Ospreys in recent months.
Sadly, there is no place in the Ospreys side for the great Scott Gibbs, who is expected to announce his retirement on Friday, his 33rd birthday. He will be fondly remembered in Scotland for his many achievements in an illustrious playing career, not least the try against England at Wembley in 1999 that delivered the final Five Nations championship to Scotland.
The bookies make Edinburgh 17 point favourites. The Force is with the Gunners. They will not let the chance slip. A bonus point win for Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Rugby: Lee; Webster, Di Rollo, Laney (C), Joiner; Paterson, Blair; Jacobsen, Hall, Smith, Hines, Murray, Dall, Hogg, Taylor. Replacements: Di Ciacca, Brannigan, Kellock, Cross, Burns, Philip, Southwell.
Neath-Swansea Ospreys: Terblanche; Seveali'I, Storey, Tiueti, S Williams; Henson, A Williams; D Jones, B Williams, A Jones, Newman, Thomas (C), Bater, Tandy, Bonner-Evans. Replacements: Wells, Millward, Pugh, Tait, Durston, Brayley, Connor
European rankings as at 19 January 2004: Edinburgh: 6 Neath-Swansea Ospreys: 36 (http://www.eurorugby.com/index.php)
Referee: Eric Darriere (France)
Kick-off: Friday 23 January, 7.30 pm at Meadowbank
Meanwhile, as the national training squad merry-go-round continues, Edinburgh maintain their strong representation, with 13 Gunners making the short trip to Stirling this week. Derrick Lee misses out, but will no doubt be back in next time. You'll find the full squad below.
Finally, the IRB announced today the excellent news that Simon Cross is eligible to play for Scotland. The young openside - who turned down a chance to play for England Under 21s in 2002 - has what could genuinely be described as a unique background. Hailing from a long line of Chisholms in military service, he was born in a military hospital in Mauritius; his mother was born in a military hospital in Germany; his maternal grandfather and great grandfather were also born in a military hospital, this time in India. His great, great grandfather was, however, born in Scotland, and his descendants all considered themselves to be Scottish. It is, indeed, difficult to see how much more committed you could be to your country than to put your life on the line in its defence. Good sense has prevailed at the IRB, and the Colonel is cleared for what the Ed hopes will be a long and distinguished international career. Full story at http://www.scottishrugby.org/international/scotland/news.cfm?newsid=8489&action=newsstory
Scotland squad: G Beveridge (Glasgow Rugby), M Blair (Edinburgh Rugby); G Bulloch (Glasgow Rugby), A Craig (Orrell), S Cross (Edinburgh Rugby), C Cusiter (The Borders), S Danielli (Bath Rugby), B Douglas (The Borders), R Ford (The Borders), S Gray (Bath Rugby), S Grimes (Newcastle Falcons), A Henderson (Glasgow Rugby), N Hines (Edinburgh Rugby), B Hinshelwood (Worcester), A Hogg (Edinburgh Rugby), A Jacobsen (Edinburgh Rugby), A Kellock (Edinburgh Rugby), G Kerr (Leeds Tykes), B Laney (Edinburgh Rugby), C Mather (Glasgow Rugby), G Morton (The Borders), E Murray (Glasgow Rugby), S Murray (Edinburgh Rugby), D Parks (Glasgow Rugby), C Paterson (Edinburgh Rugby), J Petrie (Glasgow Rugby), T Philip (Edinburgh Rugby), G Ross (Leeds Tykes), R Russell (Saracens), C Smith (Edinburgh Rugby), T Smith (Northampton Saints), S Taylor (Edinburgh Rugby), N Walker (The Borders), S Webster (Edinburgh Rugby), J White (Sale Sharks).
[Apologies for the failure of the Ed's words of wisdom on the Leeds game to appear on the official Edinburgh Rugby website last weekend. The SRU's renowned McAfee anti-cliché detector appears to have been upgraded, meaning that the report didn't make it through the firewall. In any event, the Editorial report will continue to appear on this site as soon as possible after each game.]