Heineken Cup: Edinburgh boss fears Pienaar
Edinburgh’s Michael Bradley probably knows Ulster better than any coach in the world.
The 49-year-old Cork native was Connacht’s Director of Rugby for seven years, during which he guided the western province to three Amlin Challenge Cup semi-finals.
One doesn’t spend that long coaching an Irish province without accumulating a wealth of information on what the other three are doing.
The 40 times-capped former Ireland skipper admits there is little likelihood of Edinburgh or Ulster managing to spring surprises on one another when they go head to head in Saturday evening’s Heineken Cup semi-final at the Aviva Stadium.
“We know them inside out,” Bradley says of Ulster.
“We know their culture. We know what they will do on the day as they know what we will try to do.”
He also knows he does not need any research or portfolio of facts, figures or statistics to alert him to the fact that indiscipline could prove very costly indeed for his side.
And they do have history; in the quarter-final against Toulouse at Murrayfield, Edinburgh were forced to play with 13 men for seven minutes when they had Allan Jacobsen and Ross Rennie sin-binned simultaneously.
In the event of any such repetition, it is improbable that they could manage to escape a second time.
Even without yellow cards, Bradley is warning his players that there is a threat in the form of scrum-half, Ruan Pienaar, a man capable of kicking goals from distance.
The coach has told his players not to hand the South African opportunities to punish ill-advised indiscretions.
“We need to seriously consider where on the pitch we play the match because they will capitalise on any mistakes we make,” Bradley said.
“Pienaar is a quality kicker, as in world-class.
“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.
“We are going to have to get things so right against Ulster.
“We made five mistakes against them at Murrayfield (in the Pro12), they got four tries and they should have scored a couple more — they are that good and they’ve got that much power.”
But do not mistake that respect for being the same as fear.
For having acknowledged the threat Ulster pose he added: “But we don’t fear anyone now.
“We will put together a game plan that can and will work if we execute it properly.”
And the Scot’s captain, fly-half Greig Laidlaw, highlighted Bradley’s part in creating history by guiding his side to the last four of the Heineken Cup.
No Scottish team has ever gone this far in Europe’s premier club tournament and Laidlaw has attributed this new-found success to Bradley’s coaching know-how and man-management skills which have breathed hitherto absent belief into them.
Laidlaw said: “Michael’s influence since he arrived as head coach last summer has been huge.
“He has been a breath of fresh air and has given us a sense of direction on how we should be playing.
“The guys are buying into what he’s all about — and that’s what is bringing success.”
Edinburgh’s quarter-final victory over four-times European champions Toulouse not only earned them their place in Saturday’s Dublin showdown with Ulster — instantly it elevated their status and that of their coach in one fell swoop.
And having masterminded the French giants’ downfall, now the canny Bradley is planning to defy the odds once again.
In his gentle, sing-song Cork brogue his matter-of-fact take on that Easter weekend upset at Murrayfield was: “Toulouse didn't have any support really, we'd won five of our matches while they'd won only four, they lost at home, they lost their last match against Gloucester — so they could be rattled.
“People maybe looked at it and saw Edinburgh against four-times champions and thought it was a foregone conclusion but I always felt we had a great chance as long as were very efficient in what we did.”
Bradley’s pedigree in getting the best out of underdogs is impressive; for example, his work with Connacht saw him win the inaugural Magners League Chairman’s Award for Excellence in Coaching in August 2010.
And when he took on the role of technical adviser to the Georgia national team — working alongside former Scotland head coach
Richie Dixon — they were unbeaten in their 2010/11 European Nations Cup campaign.
His record in being willing to blood young players is top-drawer, too, with 21-year-old Edinburgh Rugby Academy graduate Grant Gilchrist an excellent example of someone who was given their chance and grabbed it with both hands.
Lock Gilchrist confirmed: “I feel that if I was a young player here and I wasn't involved, I'd know if I played and trained well I would be pretty sure Michael and the other guys would put me in the team.”