Preview: European Cup, semifinals
Preview: European Cup, semifinalsSHARE
Edinburgh’s improbable quest for European Cup glory continues when they face former champions Ulster in a semifinal at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
No Scottish team has ever won the European Cup and capital side Edinburgh are the first team from the country ever to make it to the last four.
So often, being a Scottish fan has represented the triumph of hope over experience and this season was especially grim for followers of a national side that finished bottom of the Six Nations after losing all their matches.
Yet many of the same players who were found wanting when on Scotland duty have been transformed when pulling on their Edinburgh shirts and in the quarterfinals they produced one of the tournament greatest’s upsets when they beat four-time champions Toulouse 19-14.
Edinburgh’s European form has been in stark contrast to their domestic performances yet no one denies they are in the last four on merit.
“We are a different team in Europe,” Edinburgh and Scotland centre Nick de Luca told the Daily Telegraph. “We seem to turn up in a completely different frame of mind.”
One member of the Edinburgh party who will be on familiar territory on Saturday is coach Michael Bradley, the former Ireland scrumhalf, who has transformed the fortunes of the Scottish side in his first season in charge.
If Toulouse were taken aback by Edinburgh’s all-round game, with the dynamism of No.8 David Denton dovetailing expertly with the guile of flyhalf and fellow Scotland international Greig Laidlaw, Ulster are unlikely to be caught cold.
The 1999 European champions have beaten Edinburgh twice in the Pro12 this season and Bradley said: “I guess that makes them favourites.”
Bradley is particularly concerned Edinburgh keep their discipline so as to nullify the goal-kicking threat of Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar.
“Pienaar is a quality kicker, as in world-class,” Bradley said of the South African. “[In the quarterfinal] Munster made three mistakes which were 51 to 53 metres from their line, and that was nine points, so we’ve got to be very careful about that.”
For Ulster Director of Rugby David Humphreys, Saturday’s match offers the chance to move one step closer to creating a new generation of heroes for the Northern Irish province.
The former Ireland flyhalf, Humphreys, was Ulster’s captain when they beat Colomiers 13 years ago to become the first Irish winners of the European Cup.
“Everyone involved with Ulster believes it is time the constant references to 1999 are put to bed,” said Humphreys.
Having defeated Irish rivals in the quarterfinals, Ulster, if they win on Saturday, could be in an all-Ireland Final at Twickenham on May 19 if defending champions Leinster triumph away to France’s Clermont Auvergne in Sunday’s second semifinal.
Leinster will be looking to make it 14 European Cup games unbeaten at Bordeaux’s Stade Chaban-Delmas.
But the home side are likely to know what they are up against as Leinster coach Joe Schmidt was with the French club and working as assistant to Clermont boss Vern Cotter when they ended their agonising wait for a previously elusive French Championship in 2010.
Meanwhile former Scotland forward Nathan Hines will be looking to join a select group of players who’ve won the European Cup with two different clubs, having been with Leinster last season.
“If we wanted to go far in Europe we knew one time or another we would have to cross paths,” said Hines, primarily a lock.
“Joe and Vern spent a lot of time together and they will try to out-fox each other, so it just comes down to the day.
“I think on paper the teams are quite similar with effective forwards and good back rows. On paper, you’re looking at a fifty-fifty game.”
European Cup semifinal teams:
Saturday, April 28:
Ulster v Edinburgh
(Aviva Stadium, Dublin – Kick-off: 17.45; 16.45)
Ulster: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (captain), 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Adam D’Arcy.
Edinburgh: 15 Tom Brown, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 9 Mike Blair, 8 Netani Talei, 7 Ross Rennie, 6 David Denton, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Sean Cox, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Kelly, 17 Kyle Traynor, 18 Jack Gilding, 19 Steven Turnbull, 20 Roddy Grant, 21 Chris Leck, 22 Phil Godman, 23 Jim Thompson.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Jerome Garces, Pascal Gauzere (France)
TMO: Giulio De Santis (Italy)
Sunday, April 29:
Clermont Auvergne v Leinster
(Stade Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux – Kick-off: 16.00; 14.00 GMT)
Clermont: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Aurélien Rougerie (captain), 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Julien Malzieu, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Elvis Vermeulen, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Lionel Faure.
Replacements: 16 Ti’i Paulo, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Julien Pierre, 20 Julien Bardy, 21 Ludovic Radoslavjevic , 22 Regan King, 23 Jean-Marcel Buttin.
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Isa Nacewa, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Leo Cullen (captain), 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Nathan White, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Kevin McLaughlin 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fergus McFadden.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), David Pearson (England)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)