Edinburgh will look to “out-Munster Munster” in Saturday’s big Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final at BT Murrayfield, according to coach Richard Cockerill.
The showdown with the two-time European champions is the biggest occasion since the Englishman swept in to shake the Capital pro team out of their malaise a couple of years ago and the most-anticipated club rugby game on Scottish soil for seven years.
Edinburgh beat Toulouse back in 2012 in front of 38,000 and that attendance is expected to be surpassed this weekend.
Cockerill’s Edinburgh have developed a reputation as one of the toughest forward packs in Europe, now contributing the lion’s share of the national team’s scrum, and the Irish province are famed for their love of the grind and dark arts. It shapes up as a tantalising encounter and one the feisty Edinburgh coach is clearly drooling over.
“We are going to go full blown into the battle and take them full on,” he said. “We are going to enjoy the contest and see if we are good enough to do it. We will try and out-Munster Munster as we are two sides that play quite similar rugby.”
It has become a running joke at Cockerill’s always entertaining audiences with the media that he “100 per cent” plays up Edinburgh’s underdog status and, for all his confidence in his players, he wasn’t for changing tune this week.
“100 percent we are,” he said with a grin. “They are Munster. We are Edinburgh. This is the 18th time they have been in the knock-out stages. This is the third for us. That means they are better than us.”
Cockerill added that he hadn’t needed to remind his charges of their underdog status heading into the match.
“I know players are stupid but they’re not that stupid,” he said.
“I think they’ll understand that Munster are a pretty good team. We’re a Scottish team, we’re best when we’re underdogs. It’s as simple as that. But we’re up for the battle. We’re not coming here to just fulfil the fixture. If we get it right, we’ll beat them but we’ve got to get it right and we’ve got to front up in these big games.
“We’ll be well prepared, have a lot of belief in what we do and we’re coming here to win. But I’m not sure if Munster came here and beat us it would be a surprise. I think it would be more of a surprise if we beat them because they’re a good side and they’ve got that pedigree, and they’ve done it year in and year out.
“They’re used to winning games of this calibre. I’m not sure we are ... yet. But this could be the starting point for us.”
Cockerill expressed confidence that his players were a match for any team on their day but balked at the notion of Edinburgh going on to become European champions.
“They [Munster] have all the European history. It is part of the learning curve for us to play in all these big games,” said the former Leicester and England hooker.
“We have knocked off some big European teams. Munster are a big European team. We have a lot of respect for them and what they do and how they are coached but we are coming here to win on Saturday.
“Are we expected to win Europe? Do we have ambitions to win Europe? No we don’t because we are not a good enough side.
“We are building on that. I don’t want to give this opportunity away. I don’t want to be satisfied with thinking we have got to the quarters, we have done well. We have a good team and good players.”
Cockerill is fortunate enough to have nearly all his international stars back at just the right time. Shuffling his resources has been a test of his impressive tenure but, with the likes of John Barclay and Matt Scott now back in the mix, he can unleash a formidable side against the Irish.
“Stuart McInally and Grant Gilchrist are available to play. Everybody else is available to play. I’ve got more than eight good blokes [in the forwards], which is a good quandary to have.”
Cockerill agreed that back row was likely to be his toughest selection call this week.
“Without a doubt, because we’ve got six guys to fit into three spots, and they’re all very good players,” he said.“ The good thing we’ll have is we’ll have a very good starting team and good impact off the bench, which we haven’t had for a little while, that will make a real difference to us.
“It’s a good quandary to have and we’ll need it – we’ll need to play for 80 minutes at the weekend.
“It’s a little bit of balance in that back five, with Bill [Mata], and Hamish [Watson], Magnus Bradbury, John Barclay, Jaimie Ritchie there, Luke Crosbie – they’re all slightly different. You have to try and get the balance right.”