Countdown to Europe: John Hardie predicts continued improvement from Edinburgh

John Hardie. Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson

INCONSISTENCY has again been one of Edinburgh’s great problems this season, exemplified by the dismal home defeat by Benetton which followed two good wins in the PRO14. That result was enough for many to conclude that the team was no better than it had been a year or two earlier, but  John Hardie, for one, is convinced that at least in some respects progress is being made.

The depth of the playing squad is one thing that is significantly superior now, according to the openside flanker, and his assertion will be put to the test on Saturday, when Edinburgh play their opening Challenge Cup pool match against London Irish. Richard Cockerill has said he will use the fixture in Reading to give game time to some fringe members of the squad who as yet have had little or no chance to impress the new head coach, and Hardie is sure that they will rise to the occasion.  

“I can remember when I first came to Edinburgh I wouldn’t say we had the best depth, but I think now we’ve got two or three good sides that we could put out, so that’s a real positive,” the Scotland forward said. “We’ve got a young team and it’s about getting everybody on the same page.

“I think it’s improving, and it will continue to improve with a good young lot coming through as well. There are a lot of young guys at the moment that are coming through and playing well when they get the opportunity. It’s definitely keeping us older boys on our toes, which is good and really healthy.

“We know where we want to be heading, and I think we’re heading in a great direction at the moment. Last week we were unhappy with our performance, and it’s something we want to keep improving on, those must-win games. It’s just about being consistent every week and bringing that fighting attitude and that no-sort-of-fear attitude as well. If we want to be a really good team we’ve got to match that every week – we’ve got to have the sort of performance like against Leinster.

“We’ve got to keep moving forward as a team. It’s good having pressure on you and you’ve got to deal with that.

“Obviously it’s not going to happen straight away – it’s going to keep building.

We’re starting to build it, but it’s a long-term thing that’s going to keep improving.”

The fact that Edinburgh lost that game against Leinster is one indication that they need to keep getting better if they are to have a chance of reaching the PRO14 play-offs. Clearly, though, Cockerill and his players were happier with the way they performed in Dublin, and with the attitude they showed there, than they were with their win over Zebre last week at Myreside  

Hardie’s own area of the team is one place where Edinburgh have considerable strength in depth, and it can only be frustrating for the coaching staff that in him and Hamish Watson they have two of the most able players at the club scrapping it out for the one jersey. Cockerill could of course opt to play two No 7s, but, as Watson did last week, Hardie said he accepted that such an option was not always the most practical.

“If Hamish could grow a couple of inches – or me – it could help a wee bit,” he reasoned. “It’s probably something we could try. We’ve tried it a wee bit at the end of games. You need the right sort of game, free-flowing and open. But other loosies can do their job as well.”

In that case, he was asked, who would he pick in the Edinburgh back row if given the chance? Unsurprisingly, he refused to commit himself.

“It’s a hard one, because there are so many good options at the moment. We’ve got good depth there at the moment with a group of young boys that are really performing well. That’s great for the club. We’ve got good stocks in the back row. They’ve all got their good traits and I couldn’t really pick it.”

With club captain Magnus Bradbury and Jamie Ritchie among the other contenders for back-row places, it is indeed often a difficult decision for Cockerill. We will learn tomorrow which trio he has selected to begin the London Irish match.

About Stuart Bathgate 1415 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.