Bradley winning over the critics with grand plan for Edinburgh
MICHAEL BRADLEY is slowly winning over his doubters in Scotland.
It is fair to say his appointment as Edinburgh coach elicited a less than enthusiastic response from local media and supporters last year, ranging to disbelief in some quarters.
Weary from years of underachievement at club and national level, there was a demand for a high-profile name to inject some energy into Scottish rugby's leading franchise and when Bradley got the nod ahead of the likes of former Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan, there was widespread scepticism regarding his ability to turn things around.
Was the long-serving coach of the Magners League bottom team really an improvement on Rob Moffat? If a major name could not be secured, why not, at least, go for homegrown coach?
These were the questions that greeted the former Connacht coach when he rocked up in the Scottish capital and Bradley's cagey demeanour in media sessions added to the doubts among local journalists struggling to get a handle on the new man.
Early results did not help, a thumping (15-38) defeat at home to Cardiff in his first Pro12 match was followed by a comprehensive loss away to the Ospreys and it was ironic that Bradley needed Connacht to provide the first ray of light, when his old charges were narrowly beaten at Murrayfield in mid-September.
The win over Munster at the same venue helped considerably but, while Edinburgh's Pro12 form has been inconsistent to poor, it was their performances in the Heineken Cup that began to turn the tide for Bradley.
The opening win away to London Irish was as well conceived as it was unexpected but when it was followed up by a remarkable, thrilling 48-47 victory at home to Racing Metro, there was a discernible buzz about the club again.
The Blues were too strong in Cardiff but were beaten in the return match to leave Edinburgh in with a real shout of quarter-final qualification for only the second time in 14 years.
However, while the Heineken Cup results have been the most convincing argument in Bradley's favour, he has also been impressing locals with his vision for the club and Scottish rugby.
Edinburgh do not possess a star-laden squad but, unlike Connacht, have access to a clutch of current internationals and Bradley's first act upon taking over was to call a squad meeting and ask his players what the Edinburgh jersey meant to them and to the supporters paying money to watch them wear it.
The 49-year-old has also been attempting to make Edinburgh more inclusive, welcoming supporters from the north of the country and from the southern Borders territory, a rugby hotbed, whose professional rugby franchise was ended for financial reasons several years ago.
"I was sad to see them disbanded," said Bradley. "Scottish rugby needs Borders rugby. I want the Borders to be part of what we are about.
"I don't see Edinburgh Rugby as a brand covering just the city. When you look at it, we have two teams covering the west and east of Scotland so I see Edinburgh Rugby as going up to Aberdeen on the east coast and south to the English border."
As for Edinburgh's prospects this season, the coach is realistic about his squad's ability to compete with the powerhouses in the league and in Europe but is extremely positive about the potential for growth.
"Edinburgh Rugby now as a brand is very strong, a fabulous set-up, fantastic players and emerging talent, and I see playing at Murrayfield as a positive and there's a good connection between the supporters and the team," he said.
"My view is that Edinburgh has under-achieved and so I would like to get the team to a stage where it is achieving its potential. On our day, and it is premised by 'on our day', we can beat anybody. Now have we the right to say we're consistent in qualifying for Europe? We don't. But that is what we're working towards and why we're all working hard to make that breakthrough this year."
After drawing at home and losing away in the Christmas derbies with Glasgow, Bradley is looking to get Edinburgh's league campaign back on track when Ulster visit this evening (7.30).
"Like us, Ulster have so far enjoyed a successful Heineken Cup campaign but have not been as convincing in the league, though they clearly took a big step towards addressing that last weekend against Munster," said Bradley.
"Success would clearly give us the winning momentum we desire going into the Heineken Cup. However, that itself is not the objective. First and foremost this is about winning in the league."
Both sides welcome back some heavy-hitters, with Stephen Ferris, Andrew Trimble and Rory Best back in the Ulster line-up and Chris Paterson, Nick de Luca and Tim Visser restored to Edinburgh's backline, along with their all-international front-row of Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford and Geoff Cross.
The clash of Trimble and the lethal Visser out wide should be well worth watching and it remains to be seen if Ulster can reproduce their convincing Ravenhill form on the road. They certainly have the players to do it, with all their big foreign names included on the team sheet, but Edinburgh have only lost once at Murrayfield in their last seven matches and will be fired up for this one.
As for their coach, victory would add to the goodwill flowing in his direction at present. Despite a constant struggle with resources and results, Bradley's coaching earned him many admirers in Connacht where, as Eric Elwood is discovering, coaching ability can be easily swamped by harsh reality. Now he is using that experience in Edinburgh, where his appointment was recently referred to as potentially being the "best thing the former SRU chief executive Gordon McKie did for the Scottish game before leaving".
After a decidedly dubious welcome, that is quite a turnaround.
EDINBURGH -- C Paterson; T Brown, N De Luca, J King, T Visser; P Godman, G Laidlaw (capt); A Jacobsen, R Ford, G Cross; S Cox, E Lozada; S McInally, R Grant, N Talei. Reps: A Walker, K Traynor, J Gilding, G Gilchrist, A MacDonald, C Leck, M Scott, J Thompson.
ULSTER -- S Terblanche; A Trimble, D Cave, I Whitten, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, J Afoa; J Muller (capt), D Tuohy; S Ferris, C Henry, P Wannenburg. Reps: A Kyriacou, C Black, A Macklin, L Stevenson, W Faloon, P Marshall, P Wallace, A D'Arcy.
REF -- G Clancy (Ireland)