SO how should we regard Edinburgh’s season so far? A bright start followed by a run of defeats? Or – making allowances for the fact that their last two losses were to the Scarlets and Leinster – a steady improvement with the exception of that unsightly blip against Benetton?
All should be clearer after Friday night’s game at home to Zebre. If they win, Richard Cockerill’s side will at least have shown they have learned from the Benetton debacle, and with three victories from six outings will have a decent platform from which to try and mount an assault on the top three places in Conference B of the PRO14. If they lose, it’s back to square one. Yet again.
Unsurprisingly, the players are convinced there has been progress under their new coach. Jason Tovey, for example, has seen most of the action from the sidelines since completing his rehab from shoulder surgery in the summer, and is sure that Edinburgh are now far more resilient psychologically.
“I think you can see a big step forward in the mentality of the team,” the stand-off said. “Obviously that dropped against Treviso, which we were unhappy with, and probably against the Scarlets and Leinster it picked back up again. It’s not going to change overnight, we’ve got to be patient with it, but we’ve certainly seen improvements.
“We spoke before [the Leinster game] about mentally being there and in the first 20 minutes of the game not letting them get a foothold. The way we started the game, they didn’t get into our half for about 15, 20 minutes, so that was a big positive.
“I think what’s lacking at the moment is the 10 minutes before half-time and the 10 minutes after half-time. That’s letting us down a little bit, so we’re looking to improve on that this week against Zebre and trying to put a complete performance in.
“We go into every game [thinking] we need to win, and obviously these last three defeats haven’t helped, but we’re still working towards the same goal of winning every game. If we can beat Zebre and then get a nice fresh start in Europe you know we can go again.”
There was a time when the question for most teams in the league would not be whether they could beat Zebre, but how many points they would win by. But, like their fellow-Italians Benetton, the Parma-based side have improved significantly this season, while Edinburgh know how dangerous Friday’s opponents can be, having lost to them at Murrayfield last October.
“There are no easy games in this competition,” Tovey added. “If you look at the Cheetahs, they’ve won their last three games with bonus points in South Africa. Zebre have won their last two games. Certainly with the way the two conferences are going, the league is open at both ends.
“I think we’ve got to put pressure on ourselves to put a performance in [against Zebre]. We all know that if we put that performance in we should win, but if it’s anything like Treviso, then Zebre will take advantage of that and knock us back again.”
It would be a significant knockback too, doing psychological damage which could go on to impact on Edinburgh’s European campaign. Conversely, as Tovey said, a home win would set up Cockerill’s team nicely for next week’s trip to London Irish. These are still early days in a long season, but the outcome of this one game could have an impact for months to come.