Richard Cockerill hopes Edinburgh have vital edge in 1872 Cup derby
The odds are stacked against them so perhaps Edinburgh deserve the one advantage they have going into the final round of the regular Guinness Pro14 season. They will know exactly what they have to do against Glasgow on Saturday night and everyone agrees that gives them an edge.
“One hundred per cent,” replied Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill whose side sit a point behind third-placed Benetton, who face struggling Zebre in Parma earlier on Saturday evening.
“Every other competition I have been involved in, you play the last games at the same time so that there is none of this. It does give us an unfair advantage because we’ll know exactly what we need to do... whether that adds to the pressure that we can or can’t cope with, we’ll see!”
Edinburgh go into the final game of the season with their hopes of a play-off place and a Champions Cup spot both hanging by a thread. Cockerill’s side could be left hoping a bonus-point win over the Warriors at Scotstoun will be enough for a play-off berth.
Edinburgh’s once promising season could fizzle out altogether on Saturday but Cockerill said: “I think if you take a step back and look at the two seasons, you have to understand where we were last year. Certainly in Europe we were playing in the Challenge Cup which is a lot less arduous than playing in the big cup. In between internationals we could afford to rest guys in the European windows, whereas this year we couldn’t.
“We’ve almost doubled the amount of players in the Scotland 23 and the attrition of that eventually begins to add up and we’ve been in some very big European fixtures that our players haven’t been used to. We have to learn to back up games, Test matches to club games to European games, and raise our game every time we come to those events.
“This season, we have stepped up our performances across the board. We went and beat Newcastle back-to-back, Glasgow back-to-back, Toulon, Montpellier… these are big games. We had a lot of guys playing Test match rugby before and after those games. We could have done better. I still think that we have some way to go in terms of improving what we’re doing but I don’t think it’s been a disastrous season by any stretch.”
A disaster, no, but still a disappointment given how close the club came to a Champions Cup semi-final.
Cockerill’s selection policy will come under scrutiny because he returns to the same well time and again. The likes of WP Nel, Pierre Schoeman, Grant Gilchrist and Bill Mata find themselves in the Edinburgh side pretty much every week they are available and Cockerill bristled when it was suggested he could have rested his best players more often.
Edinburgh looked tired against Ulster but Cockerill insisted his players are still learning to back up week in and week out. “It wasn’t Ulster that cost us that, it was other things,” he said, mentioning shock defeats to the Southern Kings (away) and Cardiff (at home). “Do you think we performed well against Munster? Then we went to Scarlets who don’t lose very often and we won there. Then we had a game here against Ulster where everybody performed poorly, all at the same time on the same day pretty much.
“The only way to learn how to back up big games is to do it. We’ve got to keep working on that psyche. The players who I work with here, they are international players and we need to learn to keep backing up our performances.”
And they must do so one more time on Saturday. Edinburgh have the hex on this Glasgow side, winning five of their last six meetings, two of which were at Scotstoun. The two teams know each other inside out and Cockerill isn’t expecting anything different.
“I don’t think either team will surprise the other with what’s coming,” he claimed. “They’re a good side, they’re a team which plays very much off confidence and they’re a confident side at this moment in time.
“They need a win to guarantee themselves top spot and a safer passage to a semi-final and a final, so it’s a big day for them, and it is a big day for us because sport is sport and Zebre might beat Benetton and then it’s game on.”