Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has full faith in Darcy Graham to rise to the occasion at full-back against Munster in today’s mouth-watering Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final at BT Murrayfield.
Graham has been forging a career for club and country on the wing this season but has pedigree in the No 15 jersey and, with Blair Kinghorn out injured for the rest of the season, has been selected ahead of Dougie Fife at the back.
Edinburgh are on course to break the UK attendance record for a game at this stage of Europe’s elite club competition and Cockerill believes his back three, which sees Damien Hoyland return on one flank with Duhan van der Merwe on the other, can cope with any aerial barrage launched by the two-time champion Irish province this afternoon.
“He [Graham] has played there [full-back] before for us. He has played there at age group. He played for us against Stade Francais last year,” explained Cockerill.
“We know what is going to come from the aerial threat and Damien is a very good player under the high ball, and Darcy the same. Darcy gives us a little bit more threat around our attacking game.”
Cockerill added: “It is going to be small margins and we are going to need a bit of a sharp edge. The back three gives us a bit of sharp edge.
“We have a strategy of getting Darcy into the game and he has good cutting edge. Defensively he is very good in the air and gives us good counter-attack.”
Cockerill has waxed lyrical about Graham, the 21-year-old from Hawick who now has three tries in four Scotland caps, all season and is expecting another big performance from the youngster today.
“I like his attitude to get better, to play, to put his body on the line and play for his team,” said the coach.
“He’s not very complicated; what you see is what you get. He works hard and he cares about his team. He wants to be as good a player as he can be, and if every player was like that my life would be a lot easier!
“There’s a lot to like about him. He’s a really humble kid from a really good family background and he just wants to work hard. There’s a raw naivety that’s really good about him.”
As expected, Cockerill brings hooker Stuart McInally back to lead the home side charge, with Grant Gilchrist returning in the engine room, and a formidable-looking back row of fit-again John Barclay, Hamish Watson and Bill Mata.
The early 12.45pm kick-off time has been a topic of conversation this week, with Watson revealing that he will be wolfing down pasta at 9.30am but Cockerill is relaxed that his players can cope, with a bit of guidance.
“It’s an early kick-off so you just adjust. It’s no stress,” he said. “You don’t want to be slightly off. We’re all adults and we manage it ourselves. But players aren’t like real adults. You have to go, ‘get up at 7, have some breakfast, this is what it looks like’ and send them a picture of it.
“‘Have two big glasses of water and make sure your wee is clear’. It’s a little bit like that. We don’t want to leave anything to chance. I don’t care what he [Watson] eats so long as he’s full of energy when he starts.”
Today will be the biggest occasion so far of a hugely impressive Cockerill reign which feels like it has been building towards something like this, and he expects his players to respond.
“It’s an opportunity for us to make history and I think that’s important. I don’t think any team takes us lightly anymore,” said the Englishman.
“Previously, you’d expect these big sides to beat us. I think it’s different from 2012 [the last time Edinburgh reached the quarters] when… well did Toulouse really know who Edinburgh were?
“Now every team that plays us treats us with respect. They need to because if they don’t they get beaten. I have a lot of respect for Munster, played against them a lot as a player and a coach, what they do and how they go about their business is to be admired. I’d like to think that Edinburgh are starting to get that kind of reputation.”
It is a reputation that has been built on the rock of a superb pack and Cockerill expects today to be a humdinger up front.
“I’m not sure Munster are the sort of club that would go ‘they’re strong up front so we won’t play up front’. I think they’ll come head on and guaranteed 100 per cent we’ll go head on too.
“Let’s look forward to it…. I don’t know if we’re good enough to win but we’ll see. I’m looking forward to that battle. I’m going to enjoy it. You get your side as well prepared as you can and they go out there and play. It should be a great contest.”