Challenge Cup quarter-final preview: Watson nurses shoulder injury but Cockerill spoiled for choice ahead of Cardiff clash

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Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill has several internationalists returning to the fray as his team enter the business end of the season
Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill has several internationalists returning to the fray as his team enter the business end of the season ***Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson***

HAMISH WATSON will miss this [Saturday] afternoon’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final clash between Edinburgh and Cardiff Blues because of a shoulder injury picked up during the Six Nations. Head coach Richard Cockerill was not prepared to put a time-frame on how long the Scotland flanker is likely to be out of action for.

“He’s got a sore shoulder from the Six Nations so he’s unavailable for selection. He is not the biggest of men but he plays like a big man when he carries the ball and tackles, so we’ll just look after him at the moment and see where it ends up,” said Cockerill. “I’m hoping that it will right itself, but with John Hardie, Jamie Ritchie and Luke Crosbie, there is lots of cover there if we need it.”

A few other internationalists are also missing, although in the case of Ben Toolis, Darryl Marfo and Allan Dell, that comes down to selection calls rather than availability.

“Ben is rested. We have four good locks and just three spots. Fraser McKenzie comes in because he has played well through the Six Nations period and he will captain the side,” explained Cockerill.

“Grant Gilchrist has been the form lock for Scotland in the Six Nations, Lewis Carmichael has played well, McKenzie missed out last week – it is Ben’s turn this week. I will look after those four locks and they will all get game time. Ben is on good form and playing well but so is Carmichael, McKenzie and Gilchrist so for this game that is the right combination.”

Turning his attention to Marfo and Dell, Cockerill explained that while both have had game time recently, neither is back to full fitness after several months out with a back and a groin injury, respectively.

“They’ve been out for so long. Darryl had an opportunity last week but I felt he was short of match fitness, while Jordan Lay’s been playing very well so he starts; and Rory Sutherland is a good player who’s had a long time injured, but he has played more rugby so putting him on the bench was the right selection for this weekend.”

“Darryl will play some part in Watsonians’ game this weekend; and so will Ross Ford for Melrose, who also hasn’t played for a while. It’s great that we’ve got competition for places, and two international players playing club rugby because they can’t get in our side at this point.”

“Allan Dell isn’t injured, there is just no opportunity for him to play because there isn’t a game.”

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Edinburgh have won their last five games on the bounce in all competitions while Cardiff are seven from seven, which creates a fascinating back-drop to this do-or-die tussle.

“It is a good challenge for us. Two sides on good form and two sides that like to play. It is a winner takes all – if you lose you are out. We will treat it like any other game we have played,” said Cockerill.

“But we know that if we lose next week we can recover because there are two more games [in the PRO14], whereas if we lose to Cardiff we’re out [of the Challenge Cup]. I have no expectation of where we’re going to end the season, we’re just going to go into every game to play for the win. That’s how we’ve approached it and that’s how we should approach it because we’re not a good enough side to cruise through games at 80 percent and know that there’s enough in the tank.”

“We’ve just got to keep on developing. We’re nine months into a project that needs to last a little bit longer than that. Nothing is solved. We’re only 60 percent of where we can be – this is just a starting point.”

“It’s hard to beat the drum every week,” he continued. “With respect, when you go to Dragons or Connacht you can’t say to the boys: ‘This is the biggest game of the season, we have to win’. But it’s different because this week you can beat the drum a little more.”

“In fairness, the players know already. This side is used to playing in cup games – we can turn up for cup games, can’t we? But they’ve been a bit jittery and there’s been a bit of niggle around the squad in training, which is good.”

“I think I have picked the right side for the game. We are in good form, unbeaten here at Murrayfield. We have picked off some big scalps in that time as well – they have not been average teams – so we are confident, but we know we have to play our best game.”

“If we put our best game out we are more than capable of winning. If we don’t they are good enough to beat us, for sure.”

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“They’ve got some experience in that forward pack. In the back-row, Nick Williams will carry the ball very well, Josh Navidi has been outstanding for Wales and Ellis Jenkins is very good over the ball. And they’ve got a very combative front-five who will produce the goods.

“They’ve also got some talent in the back-line in two midfielders [Rey Lee-Lo and Willis Halaholo] who carry the ball very well, a ten [Jarrod Evans] who is in the form of his life, and Gareth Anscombe coming in at full-back gives them that little bit of experience.

“So, they’ll be good, but so will we. If we’re at our best we will win, but if not they are more than capable of beating us, I’ve no qualms about that.”

Cockerill added: “I think our set-piece will be combative and we’ll try to get an edge there. For me it’s more about the fact that we have a really solid foundation built on hard work and confidence in how we’re going to play, whether it’s dry or whether it’s wet.

“We can play in all conditions, as we have seen in the last few weeks. I’m not sure they can but we’ll see. The likelihood is that it’s going to pour with rain, so the game may not be a spectacle but it’s there to be won and it’ll certainly be a very committed contest.

“The sum of our parts is the most important thing: we have some good individuals but collectively I think we’re very strong and that probably gives us the slight edge on them.”

“We’re fighting on two fronts and next week I’ll pick the best side to win against Ulster in the league. But we just need to get Cardiff out of the way first. It’s a big two weeks because the reality is that we could lose to Cardiff, lose again next week and then the momentum of the season changes very quickly.”

Edinburgh (v Cardiff Blues at BT Murrayfield, Saturday 31st March, ko: 5.45pm): B Kinghorn; D Fife, M Bennett, C Dean, D Van Der Merwe; J van der Walt; N Fowles;; J Lay, S McInally,W Nel, F McKenzie, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, J Hardie, V Mata. Subs: N Cochrane, R Sutherland, S Berghan, L Carmichael, C Du Preez, S Kennedy, D Weir, P Burleigh.

Cardiff Blues: G Anscombe; B Scully, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, O Lane; J Evans, T Williams; G Jenkins, K Dacey, D Lewis, G Earle, J Turnbull, J Navidi, E Jenkins, N Williams. Subs: K Myhill, R Gill, A Peikrishvili, S Davies, M Cook, L Williams, G Smith, M Morgan.

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About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.