Never before have Scottish teams collectively occupied the positions they currently hold in Europe’s top club competition and never before has their better chance of twin representation in the Champions Cup quarter-finals, however, the scale of the challenge that lies ahead for both pool five leaders Edinburgh and pool three’s second-placed Glasgow Warriors remains imposing.
It is a measure of how badly Scottish rugby has performed in the professional era that only once before, in 2011-12, has two of its teams been in the top half of pool tables at the midway mark and, back then both were in second place at that stage. That season Edinburgh rode their luck all the way to the semi-finals, since one kick of the ball at London Irish or in either of their encounters with Racing Metro would have denied them a top place finish in the pool and perhaps even qualification as one of the better runners-up.
From the moment that Stuart McInally’s second half try gave impetus to their second half rally in that opening match, they seized every chance that presented itself, followed by a ridiculous 11 try, to-and-fro with Racing which brought a 48-47 win, a highly contrasting victory in the next match at Murrayfield when Tim Visser scored the only try of the match to make the difference against Cardiff and a last gasp deadlock-breaking drop goal from Phil Godman beating Racing in Paris.They would go on to make history by becoming the first Scottish team to win a knockout match in the Heineken Cup with another single score win against Toulouse.
Glasgow, by contrast, proved unable to build on the platform of matching Edinburgh in winning two of their first three matches, both at home against Bath and Montpellier, despite earning a commendable draw in the return match of the double-header against the French side, but losing their last two to finish behind a Leinster side that was on its way to defending its title and lifting the trophy for the third time in four years.
Similar as their current positions are, however, there is a different feel to both situations.
While there is a common denominator in the presence of an inspirational Fijian’s ball carrying lying at the heart of their effort, Bill Mata taking on a similar role to that which earned Netani Talei three man-of-the-match awards in their six pool matches back in 2011-12, Edinburgh have trusted much less to good fortune this time around.
If anything a bit more luck could have brought an opening day win in Montpellier, albeit the bigger problem was that five years after they last played in the Champions Cup, they took slightly too long to adjust. The following weekend saw them produce one of the finest ever Scottish performances in Europe as three-time Champions Cup winners Toulon were taken apart in Edinburgh and while it again took them time to warm to their task, there was a commanding tone to the way they set about securing a bonus point win against Newcastle last Friday.Two of their remaining matches are away, but Sunday’s is key since if they can find a way to beat Newcastle again, things could fall for them, conceivable as it is that Toulon and Montpellier could both be out of contention and focusing on domestic matters by the time they meet Edinburgh again.
By contrast Glasgow’s next two matches are at home, bonus point wins in both Cardiff and Lyon encouraging optimism that they can pick up maximum hauls against the same opponents at Scotstoun. That would almost certainly see them into the quarter-finals, but to improve their chances of claiming a first ever knockout win in the Champions Cup they have to find a way of getting a better result against Saracens in Watford than the English champions achieved when grinding out a win in Glasgow in the opener.
As we move into the second half of the pool competition, then, a Glasgow side that has under-performed in Europe for years and an Edinburgh team that has repeatedly surprised itself since Richard Cockerill became its head coach last season both can and have reason to believe they should qualify for the quarter-finals. This could yet be a breakthrough season and we will have a much better idea of whether it will be by the time they meet in the forthcoming festive derbies.
Source : HeraldScotland