Cockerill makes eight changes as Edinburgh maintain drive for home quarter-final

Scrum-half Sean Kennedy makes his first start of the season for Edinburgh tonight. Image: © Christiaan Kotze/Fotosport

RICHARD Cockerill has warned his players to take nothing for granted against Krasny Yar tonight as they close in on a place in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals. The Edinburgh head coach has retained only seven of the starting 15 from last week’s win over London Irish, and some of them have swapped positions, but his insistence on leaving little to chance is reflected in a line-up which looks particularly strong in the back three, where Darcy Graham is at full-back, and the back row. Damien Hoyland and Duhan van der Merwe start on the wings, Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury and Cornell du Preez are the loose forwards, and there are also some useful reinforcements on the bench, such as Bill Mata and Blair Kinghorn.

Edinburgh scored 10 tries against the Russians in their first pool game, so should have little bother in winning by a substantial margin at BT Murrayfield, the match having been switched from Myreside where the pitch is likely to be frozen. And if the desire to defeat Krasny Yar is not sufficient motivation, there is that spot in the last eight to aim for.

Cockerill’s team will definitely qualify for the quarter-finals if they win with a bonus point this evening then London Irish beat Stade without a bonus point tomorrow. As the team with the most points so far from the five pools they are well on the way to booking a home tie in the last eight by virtue of being in the top four pool winners.

“You would think a bonus-point win would get you there into the quarter-finals,” Cockerill said after announcing his side. “I’m not sure it would get us a home quarter-final. We would like to get maximum points to be on 20 points, then we have two games [both against Stade Francais] to earn the right to be at home.

“We’re trying to build something here; we’re trying to encourage the crowds to come. If we get a quarter-final at home then it will be a big day for the club. A quarter-final at Myreside and trying to sell that out would be a good starting point for us. I would like to play it at Myreside and I would like for us to sell it out and start to build that fan base at Myreside.”

Edinburgh are not as prone as they were to slipping up against more lowly opposition, but Cockerill will still treat the opposition with respect. “It’s a good test for us,” he continued. “We have to do all the basics very well. We can’t just expect to turn up and win.

“We have to make sure we are physically and mentally switched on, which were last week, and we were very motivated in the away game against Krasny Yar. We are expected to win and if we play anywhere near our potential we should win. But I said that before we played Treviso at home [when Edinburgh lost in the PRO14], so it will be an interesting development for us.”

Krasny Yar beat Stade Francais at home in their first pool game, and only lost the return fixture 39-24 last week, albeit against opponents whose interest in this competition is not as keen as it might be. Cockerill will use those results to remind his players that, while they are overwhelming favourites, they need to be professional and disciplined against a team who are capable of raising their game.

“They played in Siberia, the Stade game, and they were very motivated against a Stade team that weren’t particularly,” he added. “But even last week in Paris, Krasny Yar took the lead at various parts of the game before they fell away. So they clearly have the physical potential, and like you say they can be a little bit random in how they approach their game.

“We need to make sure that we start the game very strongly, which we tended to do at the start of the season, but then continue that. We can’t be sloppy with the physical parts of the game, our set piece and our defence in particular, and make sure we control the ball. We’ve scored lots of tries in the last few weeks, we’re playing a good brand of rugby, but we need now to make sure we can do that against sides that will be slightly more unconventional than some of the others we play.”   

The most interesting selection in the Edinburgh side is that of Graham at full-back. The Scotland Sevens player was on the wing last week, scoring on his competitive debut, and although Cockerill believes that will remain his best position, the coach thinks that being the last line of defence will help Graham’s game awareness.

“He has played there before, at age-group level. He’s a very good counter-attacker. It’s a really good opportunity to keep him playing and see what he can do in that position. He is predominantly a wing, but has a very good running game with his pace and footwork.

“It’s always good that a player can play two positions, and it’s good sometimes for a younger player who predominantly plays on the wing to play at full-back so he gets to understand the role of the full-back, so when he’s in the back three he understands what the full-back needs from his wingers. It’s good for his development.”

Edinburgh (v Krasny Yar at BT Murrayfield tonight [Friday], kick-off 7.35pm): D Graham; D Hoyland, J Johnstone, C Dean, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, S Kennedy; R Sutherland, N Cochrane, M McCallum, F McKenzie, L Carmichael, M Br/adbury, J Ritchie, C du Preez. Substitutes: C Fenton, K Bryce, M Shields, V Mata, L Crosbie, N Fowles, B Kinghorn, J Rasolea.

Krasny Yar: V Artemyev; S Latu, G Pruidze, K Golosnitskii, E Kolomiitcev; L Malaguradze, V Dorofeev; S Fukofuka, A Kondakov, A Bitiev, A Mahu, A Garbuzov, V Gresev, V Arhip, O Prepelitse. Substitutes: V Tsnobiladze, G Tsnobiladze, M Tsiklauri, A Khudiakov, E Zykov, A Riabov, I Galinovskiy, F Apikotoa.

About Stuart Bathgate 1438 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.