RICHARD Cockerill believes that a much-changed Edinburgh side is in with a chance of pulling off a surprise against Leinster tonight provided they show the commitment that was on display last week against the Scarlets.
Cockerill is well aware that his team are widely expected to do little more than make up the numbers in Dublin, and the reality is that they could play close to the top of their form yet still go down to a home side who have brought back some of their leading lights for the PRO14 Conference B clash. But the head coach’s minimal demand of his squad is that they keep themselves in contention to the best of their ability. After that, if they are to get anything from the match, they will need to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.
“Leinster have obviously come off a loss that they wouldn’t have wanted to have,” Cockerill said, referring to the province’s defeat by the Cheetahs in South Africa last week. “Leinster will expect to win: they’re bringing internationals back, against Edinburgh, at home. They’d expect that to be a nice comfortable fixture to get them some game time in.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge, but the reality is that everyone will expect us to go there and struggle. We’ve got to go and be in the battle. Things conspired against us a little last week – we felt we could have got a point out of that game.
“I don’t expect us just to fulfil the fixture – I expect us to go there and put up a good show and try and win the game. The reality we’ll see.
“We need to make sure we get everything right, we go and learn more about the players, and keep building on the mentality of how we play against big teams. The reality is that their squad is, on paper, a lot stronger than ours. They are bringing in Lions. We’re not a club in that place at the moment.”
Indeed, Edinburgh are leaving out a Lion in Ross Ford, who, along with his fellow-forwards Willem Nel and Magnus Bradbury, is being rested in line with Scotland’s protocol for international players. Fraser McKenzie captains the team from lock in the absence of Magnus Bradbury, whose place in the back row goes to Cornell du Preez. Behind the pack, Glenn Bryce starts at full-back instead of Blair Kinghorn, while stand-off Jason Tovey and centre James Johnstone make their first starts of the season.
“I’m keen to see how he goes,” Cockerill said of Johnstone, who has been playing for Melrose up to now. “He’s got a lot about him. The combination of him and Phil Burleigh is really good.
“Also there are some guys who haven’t had an opportunity. I need to make decisions around guys, moving forward, around contracts, so I need to see everybody. Some of our guys haven’t put their hands up as much as I’d like them to. It’s not about the short-term fix all the time.”
A short-term fix is required at loosehead prop, however, given the four-week suspension of Michele Rizzo following his sending-off in Wales and the continued absence of Allan Dell, Alasdair Dickinson and Rory Sutherland. Darryl Marfo starts in Dublin, with Murray McCallum covering from the bench, while next week Dell should come into the reckoning. In the slightly longer term, Cockerill still hopes that Leicester will agree to extend Rizzo’s loan period, which is due to run out during his ban.
“We’re not going to appeal, as it was fair,” Cockerill said of that ban. “Hopefully we’ll have Allan Dell back next week to play some part, so that eases things a little bit. But yes, it’s not ideal. That’s the game sometimes.
“We’ll discuss with Leicester what their plans are, but I’d like to keep him a little bit longer for cover for Dicko, and Dell will probably be involved in the Autumn Tests so we need coverage there. So there’s still an opportunity for Mickey to stay.”
Edinburgh (v Leinster at the RDS Arena, Friday 29 September, kick-off 7.35pm): G Bryce; T Brown, J Johnstone, P Burleigh, D Fife; J Tovey, S Hidalgo-Clyne; D Marfo, S McInally, S Berghan, F McKenzie, G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, H Watson, C du Preez. Substitutes: N Cochrane, M McCallum, K Bryce, A Bresler, J Hardie, N Fowles, B Kinghorn, R Fruean.
Leinster: J Carbery; F McFadden, R O’Loughlin, N Reid, D Kearney; J Sexton, L McGrath; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong, D Toner, S Fardy, R Ruddock, J Murphy, S O’Brien. Substitutes: B Byrne, E Byrne, A Porter, R Molony, M Deegan, J Gibson-Park, R Byrne, J Larmour.