FOUR wins on the spin while two serious crises rocked their squad? Perhaps Edinburgh are not really the fainthearts they are often depicted as being.
Indeed, far from being adversely affected by the suspensions of Magnus Bradbury and John Hardie, Richard Cockerill’s squad appeared to be galvanised by them. Granted, getting the better of Krasny Yar in the Challenge Cup was straightforward enough, but the recent victories over Zebre, London Irish and Benetton all showed the sort of fortitude that they have too often lacked in recent seasons.
Last week’s win in Treviso was the most significant of the lot, given the way Edinburgh were turned over by Benetton at home earlier in the season, and assistant coach Duncan Hodge, for one, was impressed by most aspects of his team’s play. “Every week there’s still loads to work on, but some things are getting better and more consistent,” he said. “Certainly from the weekend we struggled a bit in the first half set-piece-wise; decision-making was good and some good attack, good sets of D, so there was loads of good stuff in there.
“We scored three tries and potentially should have scored more – we had one chalked off when he should have maybe gone to the TMO, and at the end we missed two chances for the bonus point. That was a big disappointment for us.
“On the flip side, we managed to stop them getting one right at the end. For them not to get a bonus point . . . they’re a decent side. It was a good win.”
The aim now, of course, is to make it five wins in a row when the Ospreys visit Myreside on Saturday, only this time the task will be made harder by the loss of an as yet unspecified number of players who will be retained by Scotland coach Gregor Townsend as he prepares for the Autumn Tests. The other side of that coin, however, is that Bradbury, who returned to training last week, is available for selection again and apparently desperate to return to action after being banned for a couple of matches. Having also been stripped of the captaincy because of the city-centre incident in which he sustained a head injury, the back-row forward is anxious to start contributing to the cause once more, according to Hodge.
“He’s just got to find ways mentally to get on with it,” Hodge said. “The biggest thing is it’s great for him to be back involved in training, be one of the team again. For whatever reason, including medically, he wasn’t around the guys, and that’s hard when you’re in isolation. Now he’s back in and can contribute on the training pitch and intellectually, and potentially on the Saturday as well.
“It’s difficult for the club and for Magnus. Everyone’s got to move on. His value to the club is on the pitch.
“He’s gutted about the whole thing as well. It’s not a great situation for anyone and he just wants to get on and play and contribute – help his team-mates, help the club, and make up for lost time.
“It’s now water under the bridge. We have a massive game on Saturday. That’s the focus.
“Magnus is a good all-rounder. He’s very physical, a physical ball-carrier and a good defender. A year ago this time he was playing for Scotland, so he’s a quality player. He’ll probably say himself he didn’t reach these heights the first four, five weeks of the season, so he’ll be desperate to get back on the pitch and start climbing again.
“I think he’s probably at the point of getting his head down, get training and focus on Saturday. That’s his biggest thing. The captaincy thing, I think when you’ve been out and you’ve not able to contribute for three or four weeks, your biggest thing is you just want to muck in and train and play and help your team that way. His first port of call is to get his head down and get training and playing.”
There is no indication yet as to if and when Hardie will return after being suspended because of an allegation of cocaine use, and the probable loss of Hamish Watson to Scotland duty means that Edinburgh will go into the Ospreys match without their two recognised opensides. If Jamie Ritchie is kept by the national squad that would take away another option, but Luke Crosbie has impressed during recent games so will be in contention for a place in the back row along with the likes of Bradbury, Cornell du Preez and Bill Mata.
“Luke’s been a really good all-rounder,” Hodge added. “He plays six and seven, his ball-carrying has been strong, defensively he’s been good, works very hard. For a young guy to slot in like he has, has been a real credit to him. He’s been excellent.
“It depends what happens above [that is, at Scotland level]. Jamie as well has played openside for us in the last year – he was great for us at seven last year when he had to cover there, so hopefully we have got enough depth there. It will be asking a bit of some of those guys, but everybody’s going to be the same around this period.
“And Bill’s looking good in training. He’s been back for a couple of weeks now, so his biggest thing will be getting training time and game time.”
Whoever plays will have the same incentive: get the win that will take Edinburgh ever closer to the top three play-off places in PRO14 Conference B, and at least put some pressure on third-placed Ulster, who are currently five points ahead. “It’s a home game and we need to put on a good show,” Hodge concluded.
“We’ve talked a bit about this five-week block, but more so than that, it’s now just an isolated game that we need to win. It’s massive for us.”