RICHARD Cockerill is used to demanding – and getting – committed performances from his players. Edinburgh’s results so far this season are proof of that, as the squad have responded to the pressure from their new head coach by turning in smarter, sharper displays than they have done for years.
But as well as letting his players know in forthright terms that he expects them to keep on improving, Cockerill is just as adept at taking pressure off them when appropriate. He gave a masterclass in that aspect of the coach’s art when, after naming his team for today’s 1872 Cup rematch against Glasgow, he offered his own assessment both of this game, and of the one last week, which Edinburgh won 18-17 despite playing all but the first few minutes with 14 men.
While insisting that his team did not get the credit they deserved for first staying in the contest and then snatching a dramatic victory at the death at Murrayfield last week, Cockerill also appeared willing to downplay their prospects for this match at Scotstoun. He acknowledged that the Warriors have been the better team for some time; he agreed that Glasgow should be better in the scrum; and he accepted that, should his players fall short of their best, they could be in for a long and painful afternoon. At the same time, however, he subtly cranked up the expectations on Glasgow, insisting that the onus was on them to go out and prove how well they can play after misfiring so badly last year.
“I get a little bit frustrated that it was all about how poorly they played that let us win, really,” Cockerill said after naming a team that shows four changes from last week. “I thought we played very well. I disagree that we dragged them into an arm-wrestle.
“From reading all their press they say they’re embarrassed from their performance – I think we can play a lot better as well. The pressure’s on them to perform.
“Obviously they’ve made some changes, specially at 10, which makes a difference on the threat. I think Finn [Russell] is a world-class player, and when the ball’s in his hands he’s a threat to any defence – we saw that when he came on at the weekend.
“We’ve got to keep playing our own game. I thought we played pretty well considering the circumstances. Actually, we played well ball in hand, and created opportunities which got us into field positions where they got penalised where we put them under pressure to score.
“I thought we played some decent stuff. And we’re going to go there and play again and we’re going to go and try and win the game. It’s as simple as that: we’re not satisfied with one performance – we’ve got to go there and put our best game out on the field again.”
Edinburgh have dangerous players such as Blair Kinghorn and Duhan van der Merwe who can attack from deep and out wide, but their best game – or at least their most effective game – will surely be based, for the most part, on keeping things tight. They were dominant in the maul against the Warriors, scoring the winning try from one, and can be expected to make extensive use of the same weapon again.
They had the edge at the breakdown, too. With Hamish Watson back in the fray after being sacrificed early on last week following prop Simon Berghan’s red card, they look to have a good chance of doing the same again this time – especially as the Glasgow back row is without Ryan WIlson and Callum Gibbins.
Or at least, they could become dominant in those areas, but only providing they achieve something close to equality in the scrum. And Cockerill, like his opposite number Dave Rennie, knows that Glasgow really should have the upper hand in the set piece given the number of absentees through injury and suspension that Edinburgh have to deal with.
“They should, really, shouldn’t they?” Cockerill agreed. “Because they’re not missing anybody and we’re missing six international props and the most-capped hooker in Scottish history.
“But we’ll see. Murray McCallum has done a really good job on both sides. Matt Shields is obviously new to the club – he’s been here four weeks and has come from the bottom club in the Championship in England. And we’ve got two relatively unknowns, really, to sit on the bench. So yeah, they should beat us on the scrum – but we’ll see. I like the challenge.
“Look, they’re a better team than us. They’ve consistently shown that. But we proved last week that we’re a good enough side to stay in the battle, and we’re a good enough side, if you don’t put us away, to win the game.
“This week, it’s a one-off game, we’re going to stay in the battle, and we’re going to go there and play and try and win the game. It’s as simple as that. They’ve got no God-given right to win because they’re Glasgow.
“I don’t care what they say about our scrum or about how poorly they played, or it wasn’t how well we played it was about how poorly they played. This is about Edinburgh, and us going there and putting our best foot forward. If we do, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win. If we don’t, we could get beaten heavily. But that’s the game, and I’ve got no stress for that.”