Neil Cochrane: Next four games vital for Edinburgh Rugby

Neil Cochrane captains Edinburgh tonight as they travel across the Irish Sea to face Ulster at the Kingspan. Pic: SNS

Neil Cochrane captains Edinburgh tonight as they travel across the Irish Sea to face Ulster at the Kingspan. Pic: SNS

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Neil Cochrane knows that the next four games are crucial in shaping the rest of Edinburgh Rugby’s season, starting tonight away to Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium (7.35pm).

The Capital club may be through to the European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-finals to face La Rochelle at the end of March, but that run has masked their poor Guinness PRO12 campaign.

Since they defeated the Ulstermen at BT Murrayfield back in November, Edinburgh have only won one of their five league matches and are currently ninth in the table.

They go into tonight’s match 14 points behind Ulster in sixth and have only won four matches in the competition all term.

After this evening’s away match – and before the Six Nations end – they face Leinster away and Cardiff Blues and Ospreys at home before all the squads will be back to full strength for the run-in.

Last term they finished ninth with 54 points and hooker and stand-in captain Cochrane knows this next quartet of matches are important.

“We know that our league form has not been where we would like it to be and clearly last week’s match at home to Munster [a 10-9 defeat] was a big chance gone,” the 33-year-old said.

“Yes, in the end we only lost the match by a point, but we had to defend for large parts and we invited Munster onto us too much.

“Then when we had the ball we did not use it properly or really get into their danger zone to threaten and put more points on the board.

“We did have a chance to win near the end, but we know that the performance overall was not good enough and at the start of this week we sat down and set out some mini-goals for the next four matches.

“The points total we hope to get from the four matches will stay within the group, but every player is working hard a unit to get wins on the board and we will stick together.”

Acting head coach Duncan Hodge has made just one change for tonight;s match, with Fijian Olympic sevens gold medalist Viliame Mata coming into the back-row.

With the 25-year-old wearing the No.6 jersey, Magnus Bradbury moves to No.8 to accommodate him. Cornell du Preez drops out altogether but John Hardie retains his place as he aims to push for a Scotland call against Wales later in the month.

On the inclusion of Mata – who is known as Bill by his team mates – Cochrane said: “He is quite a quiet big guy and it maybe took him a little bit of time to settle into new surroundings, but he has been great for us.

“He has made quite an impact of the bench recently and there is no doubt that he offers something different, has great hands and reads the game very well.

“It is good to see him starting and I am sure he will do well, but it is not about individuals it is about the team and we have to make sure that we are switched on from the first minute as Ulster can be dangerous.”

Two other players who Cochrane is pleased to see starting are props Jack Cosgrove and Murray McCallum.

With the likes of Allan Dell and Simon Berghan on Scotland duties and Alasdair Dickinson and WP Nel injured, it has given them a chance to get a run of games under their belts and Cochrane has been happy with the contributions of the duo.

“What I like about them is that they are always listening and wanting to learn to get better,” he explained. “They put in a good shift last week and we will need them to be on top of their game against Ulster.”

Edinburgh team: 15: Blair Kinghorn; 14: Damien Hoyland; 13: Chris Dean; 12: Phil Burleigh; 11: Tom Brown; 10: Jason Tovey; 9: Sean Kennedy; 1: Jack Cosgrove; 2: Neil Cochrane (c); 3: Murray McCallum; 4: Fraser McKenzie; 5: Ben Toolis; 6: Viliame Mata; 7: John Hardie; 8: Magnus Bradbury. Replacements: Stuart McInally, Derrick Appiah, Nick Beavon, Lewis Carmichael, Viliami Fihaki, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Michael Allen, Rory Scholes.