Edinburgh Rugby head coach Richard Cockerill does not want his players to become embroiled in an “arm wrestle” in the home clash with Zebre this Friday, asking them to come out of the blocks flying and set the tone for the evening.
The Capital outfit put in an improved performance away to Leinster last Friday, but still returned home with nothing after a 21-13 loss and it means they have lost three on the bounce.
The run of negative results, on the back of opening wins against Cardiff and the Dragons, began with a 20-17 home reverse against Benetton Rugby in mid-September – and Cockerill certainly does not want a Myreside double from Italian teams.
However, Zebre head to Scotland on a high having won their last two matches, 43-17 against the Southern Kings in South Africa and then seeing off Ulster 27-23 at home over the weekend.
“If you’re ten per cent off your game, you can make it an arm wrestle [against Zebre] and once you’re in an arm wrestle anyone can win,” Cockerill warned.
“That’s what happened against Benetton Rugby, we were on top, we switched off and it became an arm wrestle. Then you’re relying on lady luck with refereeing decisions and the bounce of the ball and we didn’t get it.
“Zebre are attacking from everywhere at the moment and chancing their arm to score points. If you give them oxygen they’ll keep battling.
“You have to be accurate, you can’t have mad moments where guys get sent to the bin. That puts pressure on you.
“If you get those small moments right you put them under pressure and make them play differently.
“The key parts in the last two weeks [losses to the Scarlets and Leinster] are that we’ve shown we can stay in the battle against good teams. Now we need to play with that intensity and intent with and without the ball against a team we should beat.
“We’ve seen over the last three weeks that Benetton Rugby, the Cheetahs and Zebre have certainly got some credibility in the competition because they’ve got some good results.
“It’s a very, very important game for us, we’ve got Zebre, then the European games kick in and then back to the league with Benetton Rugby and the Ospreys.
“If we have ambition of pushing into European [Champions Cup] qualification spots and trying to put pressure on the guys above us in the Conference, we need to make sure we get a sound performance and a victory this Friday.
“I don’t think we have any reason to be complacent around anything and the guys will be working hard in the coming days to make sure that we end this first block of league games well.”
Meanwhile, Cockerill was delighted with the way that centre James Johnstone showed up against Leinster as is set to give him another run out this week.
The 27-year-old is a core Scotland Sevens squad member, but has been training with Edinburgh along with Dougie Fife and Jamie Farndale.
He and Fife have featured for Edinburgh so far this term and the head coach said: “James did very, very well against Leinster – he’s got a cutting edge about him that we probably haven’t had previously.
“It’s not about putting my foot down [to get the sevens players available], the sevens programme is used to develop guys for 15s, and we’ve seen lots of guys coming through.
“Dougie Fife is already a Test player with Scotland and with him it’s probably a confidence thing and giving him the opportunity to get back into 15s.
And James Johnstone is very good and will get the opportunity again this weekend.”