Richard Cockerill '˜has given Edinburgh their spurs'
Perhaps the best indication of the progress made by Edinburgh under new coach Richard Cockerill in his first season came on Thursday when the forthright Englishman made it clear that the 1872 Cup is a mere sideshow this evening.
At long last the Capital pro team have joined their rivals Glasgow in adopting a “bigger fish to fry” mindset when it comes to the trophy, which was first contested in 2007-08.
Edinburgh have a good record in the derby contest and will win it for the third time in four years if they can triumph in tonight’s decider of the new three-game series format.
Those recent surprise successes over Glasgow have been gratefully seized upon by a squad and supporters more used to dispiriting campaigns slogging away at the bottom end of the table, while the men from the west could shrug off the setbacks knowing more important business lay ahead in the hunt for titles and advancement in Europe’s top competition.
Now Edinburgh can finally break free from what Cockerill described the “small-mindedness” of parochial bragging rights and look to the sunlit uplands of play-off rugby and a long-awaited return to the elite European Champions Cup.
After racking up an impressive 14 wins so far in the Guinness PRO14, eight more than last season, Edinburgh may not even need another to achieve their twin objectives if Ulster fail to win with a bonus point at Munster before the action starts at BT Murrayfield.
Even if they do, Cockerill’s men will need just one point from the Glasgow clash to set up a quarter-final trip to face Munster in Limerick. There is a scenario which could see Edinburgh gain a home quarter-final, almost certainly against Cheetahs, if they beat Glasgow with a bonus point and Scarlets fail to do the same at the Dragons.
That would open up the possibility of an all-Scottish semi-final at Scotstoun on May 18.
There is, of course, the nightmare scenario of it all going pear-shaped but Edinburgh lock Grant Gilchrist painted a picture of a squad brimming with positivity, in stark contrast to some desolate periods over the past few years.
“Definitely happier,” said the Scotland internationalist. “When you’re on the back of losing streaks it becomes a dark place and to say the same things every week and get out of bed every week and give it the same. . . to then not get the results. So I think there’s definitely a spring in everyone’s step and obviously the big carrot of these pressure games that mean a lot when you’re in the mix for stuff.
“It just heightens everything and there’s definitely a big contrast with where you are, getting out of bed, coming in, your enthusiasm, all these things that are standard, but when you’re on the back of a losing streak it becomes ‘here we go again.’
“Confidence is a big thing. You see it in teams that do well, it builds week-on-week. That’s what we’ve looked to do when we’re playing well, tidy up a few things and build again and just look at it that way.”
Gilchrist’s second-row partner, Ben Toolis, believes Edinburgh need to harness the home advantage which drove them on to a comeback 18-17 win with 14 men in the first 1872 Cup game this season just before Christmas. “The two games have been extremely different. I think it shows the difference of a home and away fixture,” said Toolis. “The first game, winning the game with 14 men, we got that red card [for tighthead Simon Berghan] pretty early in the game, first five minutes or so, which shows great resilience from the boys to get the win.
“If we didn’t get that win we wouldn’t be in the position we are now, so it obviously shows what we can do when we’re under pressure. Then obviously backing that up the next week and losing [17-0 at Scotstoun], it’s a bit of a bumpy ride, but hopefully from there we’ve improved a lot, the boys have played really well.
“So you take the confidence from that with what’s at stake at the moment and the pressure on us to qualify for Europe and the play-offs, the boys are ready to go and get stuck in.
“We’ve beaten teams like Ulster and Leinster, but Ulster have sort of come back into form the last few weeks and they’re right on our tails. So we know we can beat the big teams and just because Glasgow are who they are and the reputation they have, they haven’t been in the best form, so we’re going to go out there not just to get a bonus point and qualify, we want to go out there and win. That’s the mindset we’re going to have.”