“We’re doing okay” was Richard Cockerill’s understated verdict as the opening chapter to his first season as Edinburgh head coach was rounded off with this rousing bonus-point victory over Ospreys at Myreside.
The Capital side go into the two-week break before their South African double header with a fifth successive win in all competitions and a welcome sense of optimism. Overall, it is seven wins out of ten and considering they only won six in the then Pro12 all season last term the report card has to be a positive one.
Cockerill is the first to stress that Edinburgh are yet to prove themselves against top-level, full strength opposition – the Ospreys on Saturday were missing nine players to the Wales squad – and he is right to preach caution. However, such has been the malaise at Edinburgh over the past few years that the Englishman deserves some plaudits for the job he has done so far.
The coach has had to manage well-documented off-field issues while coaxing his team to a string of victories which at least provide a platform to build on. The stated job of building an Edinburgh identity remains a work in progress, but at least it is progressing in the right direction.
Saturday’s crowd of 3,793 was slightly up on the last few home games and, while talk of a ‘Myreside Roar’ is premature, there was at least enough of an atmosphere to provide competition with the firework displays lighting up the Edinburgh sky.
“We got an Edinburgh crowd on their feet cheering. God help us,” said Cockerill with a broad grin shortly after Magnus Bradbury, the 22-year-old he axed as captain for a disciplinary breach last month, crashed over in the last play of the game to secure the bonus point in a game which the home side had earlier trailed 10-0.
“It is easier when you’re winning. I think we got a slightly bigger crowd tonight and we give them something to cheer about. If we can keep doing that then hopefully we’ll get another 500 when we come back here next time and we keep building.”
Edinburgh recovered from yet another sluggish start as Blair Kinghorn responded to a Dmitri Arhip opener for the visitors. A conversion and three penalties from the boot of the excellent Jason Tovey had the home side 16-10 ahead at the break.
Nathan Fowles broke away to score early in the second half and when Welshman Tovey ghosted past a couple of his compatriots to dot down it was only a question of if Edinburgh could get a maximum return. Bradbury, off the bench for his first appearance in five weeks, ensured they did.
“We’ve done all right. We’ve won five games, but the sides we’ve played over the last five weeks are not the very best teams,” said Cockerill.
“Ospreys are a very good side when they are fully loaded, but let’s get some sense on it. We played Zebre, London Irish, Krasny Yar, Treviso and Ospreys, who have a lot of players missing. So let’s take the context into account. We should celebrate our progress, but not get too far ahead of ourselves.
“I’m still cheesed off we lost to Treviso here [in mid-September]. We’ve just got to keep working. I said at the start that I don’t know where we’re going to end up. Ten games in I still don’t know. Professional sport can be pretty cruel.
“We won six games in the league last year. As a coaching group, it is going well. As a playing group, we are starting to sort some of the wheat from the chaff.
“Guys are starting to put their hands up and some young players are getting opportunities, which has pushed the older guys to pull their fingers out their arses and get in gear because they are now under pressure for their spots.”
Asked about the areas which still need improvement, Cockerill replied: “Consistency. Training consistency, behaviour away from the field consistency, and getting consistency on the field. All of those are interlinked but we’re getting there slowly.”
As attention now switches to the Test arena some of those not involved will get a break before preparations begin for the mini-tour to face the Cheetahs and Southern Kings.
“The boys will have a bit of downtime this week,” said the coach. “Most lads will be in three or four days to do a bit of conditioning and physio work.
“We are back next Monday for two weeks of preparation. We fly on the 18th, when Scotland play New Zealand and then we have all week in Bloemfontein to prepare for the Cheetahs and then down to Port Elizabeth.”