ONLY six players who got on the pitch during Edinburgh’s last Heineken Cup campaign in season 2013-14 – Tom Brown, Dougie Fife, Matt Scott, Ross Ford, WP Nel and Grant Gilchrist – are still at the club now. And only four of that number – Brown, Scott, Ford and Gilchrist – played in the capital outfit’s semi-final appearance in the competition two years earlier.
Of the players who have joined the club since then, Henry Pyrgos brings a wealth of Champions Cup experience from his Glasgow Warriors days (as do fellow west-coast converts Mark Bennet and John Barclay, the latter via five years in South Wales with the Scarlets, but they are both on the long-term injured list) – and apart from that the pickings are pretty thin.
Stuart McInally had a few seasons in European rugby’s top flight club tournament back in the days when he was still a back-rower, and was even involved in the earlier rounds of that march to the last four during 2011-12 but missed the big match against Ulster with a hamstring strain.
Scrum-halves Nathan Fowles and Sean Kennedy were unused subs in the competition during 2012-13, Simon Hickey played one game two years ago for Bordeaux-Begles against Ulster, prop Pietro Cecceralli – who has turned out three times for Hawick in the Tennent’s Premiership but is yet to earn his place in the Edinburgh team since joining the cub during the summer – played in all six of Zebre’s matches that same year, and flanker Luke Hamilton played eight games in the last two campaigns for Leicester Tigers.
Fundamentally, this is a team with very little Champions Cup pedigree, so the cautious tone of head coach Richard Cockerill and his squad this week as they look ahead to a campaign opener against a genuine European super-power in Montpellier is entirely understandable.
However, Magnus Bradbury – now one of the senior players in the side at jut 23, who briefly captained the club last season – does not want a lack of experience to be used as an excuse for a lack of ambition.
“Obviously the game is exciting [for us] as a team and as individuals [because] we are playing one of the biggest teams in Europe. It is a great chance for us to measure ourselves against them and see where it takes us,” said the flanker.
“The Champions Cup is where we want to be, but now the next step is to beat these teams and take another step forward. Nothing changes for us in our training week – it is about consistency of effort and consistency of what we put out on the field.
“You look at the squad, there is a wealth of experience in every competition, apart from this one. So, it is about drawing on that experience and seeing where it can take the rest of the team.”
The experience deficit is going to be one factor on Saturday, but the size and power of the opposition could also be an issue. However, Bradbury is evident that Edinburgh have what it takes to go blow-for-blow with the French side, so long as they are strong enough mentally.
“They do present a physical challenge, but we can be a physical team when we want to be,” he retorts. “It is about fronting up for 80-minutes rather than having a ten-minute lapse in concentration that lets other teams back into the game. We will front up and see where it takes us.
“In the match against the Cheetahs [last Friday night], we were all over them in the first half and we should have scored two or three more tries. Then those ten minutes post half-time they scored two quick tries and we allowed them back into the game.That is what I am talking about. For those ten minutes we switched off the physical side of our game. We should not be letting teams back into the game like that and should be looking to press them harder and score more points.
“We know how they can punish us if we switch off. We know as a team how they are held in Europe and how they are going to play having played French teams beforehand. It is down to us playing our game out there for 80 minutes and seeing where that takes us.
“It doesn’t matter what other people say. It is about how we prepare and how we perform. We are a rugby team. We are a good rugby team. We have shown that in the past. I believe if we get it right we can beat them on Saturday.”