Edinburgh coach sets sight on attracting big names

Richard Cockerill has achieved his target ' playing in Europe's top competition
Richard Cockerill has achieved his target ' playing in Europe's top competition
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Richard Cockerill had warned in the build-up to Saturday’s 1872 Cup decider that the days of Glasgow Warriors being the “favoured sons” of Scottish rugby were “over” and didn’t hesitate in the aftermath of Edinburgh’s thrilling victory to reiterate his point.

The Englishman promised on his arrival last summer to under-promise and over-deliver at a Capital pro-team that seemed locked in a chronic malaise and he has done that with bells on.

For the first time since play-offs were introduced in 2011, Edinburgh’s season has gone into overtime, a third 1872 Cup in four years secured and, most important of all, a return to the elite Champions Cup for the first time since 2013-14.

That return to Europe’s top table is the prize that clearly means most to Cockerill and the card he will be playing most prominently when elbowing his way to the dinner table and demanding a bigger slice of pie.

“Certainly attracting players moving forward, if you’re in the Champions Cup then you’re playing some top clubs,” said the coach after watching his side hold off a late Glasgow rally to take the spoils in front of a record crowd for the fixture of more than 25,000.

Ulster’s draw at Munster just before kick-off at BT Murrayfield meant the Edinburgh players knew that they were heading to a quarter-final in Limerick on Saturday and that Champions Cup rugby was returning to the Scottish capital.

“Hopefully we draw some good teams – the Toulons, Montpelliers of this world and you test yourselves. The only way you are going to learn is if you go and play against these teams.

“We have taken a step forward this year in terms of the league and the reality is whatever happens in the Challenge Cup, it’s still the Challenge Cup isn’t it? And if you win it, you’re the 21st best team [in Europe] that’s the reality.

“We’ve just got to keep building what we are doing here. We’ve still got a long way to go. We’ll look to get it right as best we can next week and build again next year.”

Glasgow were left to lick their wounds and reflect on the fact that, for all the excellence they have shown for periods this season, storming to top spot in Conference A, momentum appears to have stalled worryingly as they head into a three-week hiatus for their home semi-final against Scarlets or Cheetahs.

They started Saturday’s game as strongly as they had this inaugural Pro14 season with a well worked try as DTH van der Merwe latched perfectly on to a delicious Finn Russell kick to strike.

James Johnstone surged over in response for the hosts before Callum Gibbins for Glasgow and Jordan Lay for Edinburgh had the scores locked at 14-14.

The decisive moment came just on half-time when the other Van der Merwe wing, Edinburgh’s Duhan, collected a kick to the corner to open up a seven-point lead for the home side.

Glasgow’s Van der Merwe clawed another score back towards the end of the game but replacement stand-off Duncan Weir had earlier booted over a penalty against his former side which proved enough of a cushion.

“We now go to Thomond Park in a barrage play-off [against Munster]; and we’re in Europe so we get to play with the big boys next year, which will be a challenge – but it is where we want to be,” said a delighted Cockerill.

“We have to start learning how to play against big teams, but I thought it was a good game of rugby tonight which both teams could have won – and we managed to eke out the win.”

Cockerill said his full-back Blair Kinghorn, who was one of a number of players from either side who failed to take the field after being named in the line-ups last Thursday, should be fine for Munster after what the coach described, in a slightly exasperated manner, as a bout of self-inflicted food poisoning emanating from kitchen skills which could, perhaps literally, be described as raw.

For Glasgow, who had Jonny Gray, Sam Johnson and Peter Horne drop out through injuries, it was another disappointing away defeat to give their coach Dave Rennie plenty of food for thought.

The Kiwi gave full credit to Edinburgh in the aftermath and exuded calm as he now looks to get his players back up firing for the semi-finals.

“The ideal scenario is that you’re winning and taking confidence from that,” said Rennie.

“Our challenge now is to tidy a few things up over the next three weeks. We get to sit back and watch a quarter-final next week with a bit of clarity about who we’ve got and then get a plan together.

“But we do need to make some shifts in our game. Not structurally – more about our individual ability to carry and create go-forward. We didn’t do that for long periods. However, we’re in the position we want to be. We’re at home playing in a semi-final in front of our friends and family. We’ve been tough to bowl there and we’ll expect to make it hard for whoever is coming.”