Fixture: London Irish v Edinburgh Rugby
Competition: EPCR Challenge Cup, Round 3
Date: Saturday 15th January 2022
Stadium: Brentford Community Stadium
Edinburgh Rugby venture over the border for an EPCR Challenge Cup Round 3 tie with London Irish this Saturday at the Brentford Community Stadium.
After joining the Exiles in the summer, former Edinburgh residents Kyle Rowe and Mike Willemse will not have to wait long to link up with old team-mates in what is the first encounter between the two sides since 2017.
After a relatively shaky start of a win, a draw and a loss in each of their opening three URC matches, Edinburgh have found their form, stringing together an impressive six-game winning streak in all competitions.
Recent postponements owing to COVID cancellations mean this is only a second outing for Mike Blair’s team since December 11th, but last weekend’s showing at home to Cardiff would suggest a side that are anything but out of practice.
Approaching the halfway point of the regular season, a 34-10 triumph over Celtic rivals Cardiff at the DAM Health Stadium saw them leapfrog Leinster to the summit of the United Rugby Championship.
The Leithsiders’ staple of free-flowing attacking rugby (second in points scored and tries scored) is reinforced by their capable set-piece – winning 95% of their scrums, achieving 14 scrum penalties and trailing only Munster and Leinster in line-out success.
The boss – Mike Blair
"I'm putting a layer on top of our game, giving the players more authority and giving them a bit more freedom – there are some really talented players in there."
Edinburgh’s former scrum-half and captain Mike Blair has thus far had a triumphant homecoming, raising them to table-toppers for the first time in 13 years in what is his maiden assignment in a Head Coaching role.
The 40 year-old returned from a dual role with Scottish rivals Glasgow Warriors, another former Club of Blair’s, and the Scottish national team under Gregor Townsend.
Blair – a 2009 British & Irish Lions tourist and 85-time capped Scottish international – has built on the foundations established by Richard Cockerill by adding exciting signings from the Top 14, namely Emiliano Boffeli and Ramiro Moyano who have together amassed a total of seven tries in nine combined appearances.
One to Watch – Magnus Bradbury
A one-Club man, Magnus Bradbury commemorated his century of appearances in the capital with a man-of-the-match 80 minute shift against Benetton in early December – and did so once again against Cardiff last Saturday.
The loose forward’s stellar form of late on both sides of the ball has seen him being awarded with the Club’s December Player of the Month to close out his seventh year in Edinburgh colours.
Throughout the month, Bradbury won five turnovers (retains the third most overall in the United Rugby Championship with nine) and beat seven defenders, averaging 6.3 metres per each of his 59 carries in the month.
Last capped in March 2020, the 26 year-old was also welcomed back into the international fold at Murrayfield this autumn as part of Gregor Townsend’s squad, despite not adding to his 14 caps.
Bradbury credits new coach Blair for an uptick in performances, declaring that he has given him more time with ball in hand and Edinburgh “a great place to play good attacking rugby.”
Classic Encounter – London Irish 38, Edinburgh Rugby 6 – December 15th 2015 – European Challenge Cup
Andrew Fenby and the boys in green put on a show for the Exile Nation back in 2015 when Edinburgh came to town in the Challenge Cup pool stages, crossing six times for a 38-6 bonus-point win.
It was Fenby who started and concluded proceedings with the first and last of his three tries, bookending a barnstorming 80 minutes from Irish at the Madejski Stadium with typical pacey rugby.
The Welshman doubled the home lead soon after his mazy opener with a score in the corner from a Sean Maitland pass, Alex Lewington thereafter jinking his way into Edinburgh territory and over the whitewash.
With Irish’s backs on fire and the Scots’ only retort coming the way of future Exile Greig Tonks’ placed kicks, Johnny Williams crossed for his fifth try in four games before the break.
Speaking of fifth, Asaeli Tikoroituma registered his side’s penultimate try before Lewington assisted Fenby by way of a chipped ball to complete the latter’s hattrick and round off a successful afternoon for Tom Coventry and co.
Tries: Andrew Fenby (3), Alex Lewington, Johnny Williams, Asaeli Tikoroituma
Conversions: Shane Geraghty (3), Theo Brophy-Clews
Penalties: Greig Tonks (2)
Head Coach Mike Blair reiterated the need to focus having guided Edinburgh to the top of the pile in the United Rugby Championship after a convincing 34-10 rout of United Rugby Championship rivals Cardiff.
"We’re pleased with where we are, getting points on the board early is excellent, but we don’t want to get carried away.”
Blair also spoke of his delight in the exciting style of rugby his side are executing, with the DAM Health Stadium outfit first in the URC in defenders beaten (209) and clean breaks (59).
"We’re trying to allow guys to make decisions based on what they see, and I saw that in the first half.
"It might have been easier to kick the ball, but we saw an opportunity and we shifted it and made a break in the wide channels.
"We’re heading in the right direction, but there’s still plenty to do."
(Preview by Ryan Fitzgerald-Nolan)