Heineken Cup Rugby 2012: Historic Edinburgh Win Gives Scots Reason to Smile
Five days later, the result at Murrayfield last weekend still seems somewhat miraculous. For a country reeling from the wooden spoon their side earned at the Six Nations, Edinburgh's 19-14 defeat of French powerhouse Toulouse was about more than advancing in the Heineken Cup. It was about more than cashing in on the deluge of gate receipts and merchandise sales as nearly 40,000 rugby fans poured into the stadium. Edinburgh's victory just might save Scottish rugby.
Being in the crowd last Saturday was a surreal experience. Over the last twenty minutes, there was a profound impulse running through the stadium as every line out and tackle galvanized the fan base and reflected back on the team in black and red. Not even the world's best player, Thierry Dusautoir, could match it. But before the match, it would have been difficult to find many of the Scottish side's fans who believed their team could win.
Scottish rugby fans been diligently schooled in the art of skeptical cheering. They paint their faces, put on their team's jersey, and avidly buy tickets. But beneath overt dedications of devotion resides an cynical undercurrent that invades their cheers and fuels their disappointment. It is as if they are always waiting to say, "Great. Here we go again."
This is not a criticism. Scottish rugby fans have endured one of most prolonged spells of international and professional mediocrity the sport has ever seen. Rugby factories in the Borders region have seemingly dried up and a lack of funds have doomed Scotland's two professional teams, Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors, to the bottom of their leagues.
Just look at this year's Six Nations Tournament. With the exception of the wooden spoon match against Italy and the second half at Aviva Stadium, Scotland played well. They could very easily have beaten England and France. Who knows what could have been in Millennium Stadium had two trips to the sin-bin not sealed their fate. Yet despite positive play, Scotland emerged winless.
But something changed in Murrayfield on Saturday. Maybe it was being a part of the largest Heineken Cup crowd in Scottish history. Maybe it was that the players on the field, lead by Scotland skipper Ross Ford and the superb Greig Laidlaw, looked like a team possessed from the opening kick. Or maybe it was just that Scotland, a country that lives for rugby, was tired of taking one step forward and two steps back.
To be fair, Glasgow Warriors also deserve a lot of credit for shifting the sport's culture in Scotland this season as well. While Edinburgh has slipped to second from the bottom in the RaboDirect Pro 12 standings, Glasgow are fighting for a playoff spot and have been without question the stronger professional team in Scotland this season. But paired with last weekend's result, the professional teams in Scotland are taking back the sport.
Both teams have been actively bringing in new players over the last few months and looking to build on their successes this season. And more importantly, both sides are not content. They are hungry. And so are Scottish rugby fans.
So what happens if Edinburgh lose to Pro 12 rivals Ulster in three weeks? Will of this positive energy dissipate?
When Scotland scrum half Mike Blair slithered his way over the try line just one minute and 32 seconds into the match last Saturday, the 37,000 in Murrayfield were overjoyed. In my section one fan yelled, "Had enough yet Toulouse?"
I think we have our answer. Scottish rugby is back.
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