After two frustrating losses on the road to start their Guinness Pro14 campaign, Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill says he “expects” his side to kickstart their season with a win over Connacht in their first home game this evening.
With Pro14 and European champions Leinster away to follow in what is undeniably a punishing opening schedule, defeat tonight would undeniably leave the Capital pro team in a bit of a hole coming off the back of last season’s surge of positivity.
Cockerill is hoping a “big crowd” show up to lift a side hurting from two losses which could have gone the other way, as Edinburgh embark on yet another season in the cavernous national stadium, following last year’s aborted Myreside experiment, before getting a more suitably sized venue on the back pitches.
The coach accepts that his side won’t have a hostile fortress to intimidate visiting teams but wants the players and supporters to try and make the most of what is now a long-running problem.
“It’s a great pitch, a good surface; a full size pitch suits us, how we want to try to play,” said Cockerill.
“Murrayfield’s a great stadium. We know it’s not going to be full, but we’re hoping to get a big crowd and we’re happy with what we’re doing. We had some big wins here last year, so we’ve just got to make the best of it until we get into a stadium that’s a bit more appropriate for our fan base, then obviously we’ll be able to create more atmosphere. We all know that.”
Cockerill has made three changes to the starting line-up which started the agonising 30-29 loss at Ulster last week. Wing Duhan van der Merwe returns from the head knock he sustained on the opening weekend at Ospreys, openside Hamish Watson returns to the back row after becoming a father last weekend and centre James Johnstone replaces the injured Mark Bennett.
Connacht bring back two Ireland internationalists in the form of scrum-half Kieran Marmion, who starts, and star centre Bundee Aki, who is on the bench, and Cockerill expects a tough test from a side who have pushed Glasgow very close and thumped Zebre.
“I expect us to go and perform and win, as simple as that,” said the coach. “Of course it’s an important game. If we play how we can play, we play as well as we can, we’ll get the right result. We need to start winning pretty soon.
“I know that there’s enough rugby in that Connacht team to cause teams problems. Obviously Glasgow have got a great start [in the first round of games in Galway] and controlled the game for large parts.
“Glasgow in the end got on top of them physically at times, but the Connacht team caused them all sorts of problems and were unlucky not to win the game in many ways.”
Cockerill feels that Edinburgh have been victims of bad luck themselves so far.
“We were a bit unfortunate that we got the wrong end of the [Ulster] result – at a difficult place to go and play I thought we played very well,” he said. “We’ve just got to replicate that again this week. Fort some bizarre reason in the Pro14 some teams have two home games and some have two away games at the start, so it was always a tough start.
“We need to perform well and we need to make sure we get the same performance as we got last week, if we do that I’m pretty sure that we’ll get the right result.”
Cockerill insisted that there was no panic and added: “We all have our responsibilities. We’re doing some good things. I know you guys [media] love to talk about the negatives, but there’s some real good things that we’re doing as well, and we need to make sure that we do that again on Friday.”
Asked if the ‘old Cockerill’ would have been more angry following a game like last week’s when a decent cushion was squandered before the team got themselves back ahead with half a minute left only to lose in the next play, the coach said: “Well, I haven’t to you guys or in public.
“It works both ways, fellas. For this team to develop we have to go through certain scenarios. I’d much prefer us to not lose at the weekend and play well enough to make sure that we win it.”
Edinburgh: 15. Blair Kinghorn; 14. Dougie Fife, 13. James Johnstone, 12. Matt Scott, 11. Duhan van der Merwe; 10. Simon Hickey, 9. Henry Pyrgos; 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. Stuart McInally (c), 3. WP Nel, 4. Ben Toolis, 5. Grant Gilchrist, 6. Jamie Ritchie, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Luke Hamilton. Subs: 16. Ross Ford; 17. Allan Dell; 18. Simon Berghan; 19. Fraser McKenzie. 20. Magnus Bradbury; 21 Sean Kennedy; 22. Jaco van der Walt; 23. Juan Pablo Socino.