NO MATTER what difficulties they may have been having in the league – and there have been a few over the years – Edinburgh have often managed to turn in some excellent performances in European competition. For winger Tom Brown, a second-half substitute when the team reached the Challenge Cup final in 2015, at least part of the reason for that is a feeling that the pressure is off, and that they can therefore play in a style more suited to their strengths.
“Previously the European Cup has allowed us to play the game we want to play,” he said this week. “The league is probably our main focus throughout the season. It’s where we want to be performing, want to be climbing the table. In Europe it’s a major competition, but we’ve got the ability to go out there and really perform.
“Once we get the momentum in Europe and having that mindset, I think it’s key. If you have a mindset ‘we’ve had success in Europe” you seem to mentally approach the game a wee bit better. I can’t put my finger on it, but once we get a couple of wins under our belt, tails up, it’s something we look forward to playing in.
“The way that the Premiership and French teams play maybe helps us with a different style. It maybe opens things up a wee bit more for us.”
From the squad’s point of view, the ideal obviously is that a good run of form in this season’s Challenge Cup will translate itself into a higher standard in the PRO14. As they prepare for the start of this season’s campaign tomorrow at London Irish, Edinburgh will want, at the very least, to go into the last two rounds of fixtures still in with a shout of reaching the knockout stages. And, as some of the old Heineken Cup matches mentioned below prove, once they are under a positive pressure to perform in Europe – the ‘win this game and a home quarter-final could be yours’ kind of pressure – they can rise to the occasion in spectacular style.
Heineken Cup, 14 October 2000
Northampton Saints 22 Edinburgh 23
A season after conceding 79 points in two games to the Saints, who were then en route to becoming European champions, Edinburgh went down to Franklin’s Gardens and claimed a memorable win. Duncan Hodge, now assistant coach, got the winning score with a stoppage-time drop goal, and his team, who had already beaten Leinster, began to harbour hopes of reaching the last eight. But, although they later beat Northampton again and got a draw with Leinster, by then those hopes had been dashed by two defeats from Biarritz, who finished ahead of them in Pool 1 by a point.
Heineken Cup, 10 January 2003
Edinburgh 32 London Irish 25
After losing to Irish at the Madejski Stadium, the Reading venue that will again host tomorrow’s match, Edinburgh won the return in a high-scoring encounter at Meadowbank, with three tries in the last five minutes from Brendan Laney, Conan Sharman and Todd Blackadder. They ended up third, however, in a group won comfortably by Toulouse.
Heineken Cup, 7 December 2003
Edinburgh 23 Toulouse 16
A great start to the campaign got Edinburgh prompted an inspired run of five wins in the pool, which was enough to take them into the quarter-finals. Alas, their last pool game was a defeat in Toulouse, and the seeding meant that they had to go back to France to meet the same opponents in the last eight. They lost 36-10.
Heineken Cup, 23 October 2005
Edinburgh 32 London Wasps 31
Murrayfield saw another pool campaign kick off in some style as former champions Wasps were seen off by a single point, Simon Webster scoring the winning try in injury time. But a loss in Llanelli quickly burst Edinburgh’s bubble, and they ended up bottom of the pool.
Heineken Cup, 18 November 2011
Edinburgh 48 Racing Metro 47
Tom Brown, Tim Visser and Roddy Grant were among the try-scorers in front of a crowd of just over 5,000 at Murrayfield. Racing were 24 points up at one point before a rousing fightback was capped by Greig Laidlaw’s conversion of winger’s second try. Edinburgh went on to top their pool, leading to . . . .
Heineken Cup, 7 April 2012
Edinburgh 19 Toulouse 14
Nearly 38,000 were at the national stadium five months after the Racing win to see the Scottish side defeat old rivals Toulouse in the quarter-finals. Mike Blair scored his team’s only try in the opening minute, with all the other points coming from Greig Laidlaw. Alas, Edinburgh could not repeat the trick in the semi-final in Dublin, going down 22-19 to Ulster.