Edinburgh Rugby’s hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the European Challenge Cup have received strong endorsement from a former team member who is now helping to plot their downfall.
The Capital outfit head for the Kassam Stadium, Oxford, tomorrow to face London Welsh aiming to make it four wins from four in the qualifying campaign but knowing there is little margin for error with Bordeaux-Begles, whom Edinburgh beat away from home at the outset, now breathing down their neck as a consequence of collecting bonus increments.
Gordon Ross, the London Welsh player/coach who learned his rugby at Heriot’s and Edinburgh before carving out an international career from south of the border, said: “Edinburgh are in a good position. They’ve won in France and if they beat us down here they’ll deserve to progress.
“To win your first four matches would be a pretty good position to be in.
“Edinburgh are well drilled and know what they are doing.
“There’s a pretty good structure to their game and I’m sure they will enjoy their Christmas games against Glasgow as well.
“If they can turn us over it will put them in a pretty good position for their 1872 Cup games.”
However, Ross warned: “Our focus at London Welsh is on trying to turn our second half performance at BT Murrayfield around and be more competitive. We want to be more of a threat with ball in hand.
“I enjoyed the first half of the first match and at half-time we said ‘stick to what we are doing’.
“Then we gave away a try in the first two minutes.
“That obviously gave Edinburgh a lot of confidence but despite the possession they had in the first half they didn’t look like scoring. We were quite comfortable.
“It was poor from us. We spoke at half-time about what we should do and didn’t do it.”
Last week’s encounter was definitely a tale of two halves.
“I was a little bit disappointed with our second half performance because in the first half we were pretty accurate and didn’t make too many mistakes,” said Ross. “Edinburgh capitalised by upping their intensity and were probably deserved winners in the end. From our point of view we should have looked to play a bit more.
“We were a little bit one dimensional at times and played into Edinburgh’s strengths.
“They were a very physical side and we played into that. We were not quite smart enough.
“But you can’t take anything away from Edinburgh in that second half.
“Our errors gave Edinburgh field position to get the (three) tries they probably deserved.”
One of those tries came from Neil Cochrane, who was a second half substitute at hooker and who has retained his place, while Ross Ford recovers from a back injury.
Cochrane is delighted to be in the front line.
“As a hooker you have to make sure you nail your set piece and anything else is a bonus.
“But I like to think I can add a little bit around the park as a convert from back row.
“Nobody was quite sure who scored Edinburgh’s second try (least of all the stadium announcer!) but I was sure. It was a great play from Greig Tonks to get over the gain line and I followed him into contact.
“He managed to produce a good off-load and I flopped over line!
“It was my first try since scoring against Saracens for Wasps in an LV Cup tie last year.”
Frustration for Edinburgh came from not collecting a scoring (four try) bonus point and in try terms they are trailing well behind Bordeaux- Begles, who went into last night’s match at Lyon with 14 to their credit compared to Edinburgh’s six.
Bordeaux ran in five when defeating Lyon 37-29 last weekend and their seven touchdowns at the outset of the competition when demolishing London Welsh 52-16 contributed to a biggest win in Europe for 13 years.
So, even if Edinburgh maintain their winning run tomorrow and at Lyon during the third weekend in January, the return clash with Bordeaux-Begles later next month is still registering as vital.
Certainly they can expect a tough examination from London Welsh who, although unlikely to qualify, will want momentum for returning to the Aviva Premiership when two of their next three games are against fellow bottom-half rivals London Irish and then Harlequins.
There are six changes to Edinburgh’s starting team that beat London Welsh last Sunday in addition to Neil Cochrane’s promotion.
Jack Cuthbert comes in at full-back with Dougie Fife, a late injury withdrawal last weekend, returning on the right wing.
A changed half-back pairing results in Greig Tonks, on his 50th appearance, playing at stand-off and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne at scrum-half after being successfully introduced after the interval.
Lining up alongside Cochrane in the pack will be John Andress and Anton Bresler, who move up from the bench to start at tighthead prop and lock respectively.