Cockerill’s skeleton crew told to ‘fire every bullet’ against Scarlets

Senior players must lead the way stresses head coach ahead go a major challenge for his stretched squad

Murray McCallum
Murray McCallum is leaving Edinburgh after five years with the team. Image: David Gibson / Fotosport.

THERE is a settled look to the Edinburgh side to take on Scarlets tonight, but not in the way that Richard Cockerill would want. The fact there are only three changes to the starting line-up for the PRO14 match may suggest stability, but the lack of variation is really because, with more than 20 squad members away with Scotland or out through injury, virtually no-one else is available.

Tom Brown returns on the right wing in place of Darcy Graham, Murray McCallum is back at tighthead, and Scotland Sevens player Ally Miller will make his debut at openside against a Scarlets line-up that includes Scotland squad member Blade Thomson and former Edinburgh scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne. Lewis Wynne, who had been on a season-long loan from Glasgow to London Scottish, is the back-row replacement and like Miller is in line to make his debut.

“I’d never even heard of him until Monday,” Cockerill said of Wynne. “He’s played a little bit for Glasgow, and he gives us a little bit of experience where our other options had none. He’s been with us since Monday and gets his opportunity from the bench.”

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Cockerill knows that extending his team’s winning run at BT Murrayfield to seven games in all competitions will be tough in the circumstances, but he expects his more experienced players to show the sort of leadership that was conspicuous by its absence in the second half of the loss to Zebre. “We’ve got 22 guys unavailable through injury and selection,” the coach continued. “We have eight contracted back-rowers and two were available, so that’s where we’re at with that. Our four first-choice locks are unavailable through being with Scotland or through injury.”

Although he would have no complaints were his team to under-perform yet manage to fluke a win, Cockerill knows the more plausible route to victory is for his players to excel themselves. “I’ll take us playing really badly and winning, but the reality is that I want the Edinburgh team to play as well as they can, so we need to make sure that we do that.

“If Scarlets turn up with their experience and they’re very good and we’re not quite good enough, then so be it. But I want us to play at our best and be very sharp in what we do and fire every bullet to try and win the game and not die wondering.  We’re going to have to be very accurate and very physical and defensively very good, and that’s the challenge for these young guys.”

“Sometimes when you have a lot of young guys in the one team you don’t get that, but I want the senior guys to step up. I want everybody in the team to take responsibility for their performance and we’ll see where we get to, but guys like [Henry] Pyrgos and [Simon] Hickey, Chris Dean, Tom Brown, Dougie Fife – they’ve got to take responsibility. Luke Hamilton, Viliame MataRoss Ford is the most capped Scotsman of all time, he’s got to step up and lead from the front in how he plays. That’s nothing new. That’s just normal.”

Edinburgh (v Scarlets at Murrayfield, tonight 7.35pm, live on Premier Sports): D Fife; T Brown, J Johnstone, C Dean, D van der Merwe; S Hickey, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, R Ford, M McCallum, J Hodgson, C Hunter-Hill, L Hamilton, A Miller, V Mata. Subs: D Cherry, R Sutherland, P Ceccarelli, C Atkinson, L Wynne, N Fowles, J Baggott, J Socino.

Scarlets: J McNicholl; I Nicholas, K Fonotia, P Asquith, M Williams; D Jones, S Hidalgo-Clyne; P Price, R Elias, W Kruger, S Cummins, D Bulbring, B Thomson, J Macleod, W Boyde. Subs: D Hughes, D Evans, S Gardiner, T Price, E Kennedy, K Hardy, C Blommetjies, U Cassiem.

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About Stuart Bathgate 1414 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.