Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill: Clipping Newcastle Falcons wings again won't be easy
Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill is under no illusion that his team face a very different Newcastle Falcons side tomorrow afternoon than the one they comfortably saw off last weekend.
The English side have made 11 changes to their starting line-up, bringing back a host of big guns as they look to reclaim top spot in Heineken Champions Cup Pool 5 heading into the new year and the decisive final two games.
The Falcons’ tighthead crisis, which hampered them badly at BT Murrayfield, has eased, with Trevor Davison returning in the No. 3 jersey and, across the board, Newcastle director of rugby Dean Richards has unleashed the best side at his disposal as they look to avenge that 31-13 reverse.
England flanker Mark Wilson is back at blindside, with Scotland openside John Hardie in to face his former club. Toby Flood returns at stand-off and dangerous wings Nicky Goneva and Sinoti Sinoti both also start this time.
Cockerill, who has made just two changes to his XV with loosehead Allan Dell in for Pierre Schoeman and flanker Luke Hamilton for Jamie Ritchie who has a quad thigh injury, said: “It’s probably the strongest they could put out. As expected really, home game, and they still have every opportunity to qualify from the group.
“They are in a pretty good position, as we are. The group is only halfway through and all four teams can still qualify.”
It was no surprise to see Hardie in the team after the 30-year-old was added to Newcastle’s European squad on Tuesday. “John is a good player. We know that,” said Cockerill. “He is a hard tackler, good over the ball, but they have a lot of guys who are good over the ball, guys like Mark Wilson and Kyle Cooper are very good tackle/jackal players.
“It’s a good side, especially with the winning combination, Johnny Williams and Chris Harris in the midfield, and Toby Flood. It is the strongest team so we are looking forward to it. It’s good for us. Europe shouldn’t be easy, and it won’t be. Newcastle have been strong at home and I expected them to pick as strong aside as they could.
“You don’t want to concede anything when you play at home. There will be a big crowd and if they win they will put themselves above us with two games to go. All four sides still have a chance to get out of the group and have everything to play for.”
Newcastle will be targeting Edinburgh’s explosive No. 8 Viliame Mata, who was superb last week, with Falcons boss Richards quoted in the week saying he knew how the powerful offloading Fijian could be stopped.
“He would certainly know how to stop him if he was playing,” said Cockerill about the legendary former England and Lions No. 8. “Vili is a unique individual, but we have good ball carriers in Hamish Watson, Stuart McInally, Allan Dell and both our locks.
“It’s the same with them – [No. 8 Nemani] Nagusa and Wilson are good ball carriers and [lock] Calum Green has played exceptionally well for them. Vili brings what Vili brings. They will target him because he is a very good ball carrier but we have other threats in our team who will cause problems as well. It’s a bit like Goneva and Sinoti – they are world-class players and if you’re not careful they will cause you problems. Johnny Williams and Chris Harris are very physical midfielders. #
“We’ve got our work cut out and we know that. We haven’t won away from home this season, so the odds are against us. But that’s a great challenge.”
Newcastle will hope to draw on the energy of a packed Kingston Park and the memory of their last home game in the competition when they put together an extraordinary 39-phase move to seal a win over Vern Cotter’s Montpellier at the death.
Asked if Newcastle’s ability to control possession was a worry, Cockerill said: “It will concern me if they get into those areas.
“The thing we did really well last week was that we did not give stupid penalties away.
“The week before they played us Newcastle had 40-plus phases to score and win at the end against Northampton. We know they are a dangerous side. They are physical but so are we. They will be saying the same thing in their changing room about us.”
Edinburgh: 15. Blair Kinghorn; 14. Darcy Graham, 13. James Johnstone, 12. Chris Dean, 11. Duhan van der Merwe; 10. Jaco van der Walt, 9. Henry Pyrgos; 1. Allan Dell, 2. Stuart McInally (c), 3. WP Nel, 4. Ben Toolis, 5. Grant Gilchrist, 6. Luke Hamilton, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Viliame Mata. Replacements: 16. Dave Cherry; 17. Pierre Schoeman; 18. Simon Berghan; 19. Callum Hunter-Hill; 20. Luke Crosbie; 21. Nathan Fowles; 22. Simon Hickey; 23. Juan Pablo Socino.