EDINBURGH forwards coach Steve Lawrie says that there is now enough strength in depth within the capital squad to allow for some mix and match in this Friday night’s European Challenge Cup Pool 3 curtain-raiser without compromising the team’s overall competitiveness.
Having missed out on the Champions Cup this season, the capital outfit could view the next two weeks as an opportunity to rest and recharge so that they can hit top gear when they return to Guinness PRO14 action with a trip to Munster in just over two weeks’ time.
Edinburgh are currently third in Conference B of the PRO14 on 19 points, with Munster top of the table on 24 points, so that game could be season-defining on the domestic front, and it is understandable that head coach Richard Cockerill will have one eye on being able to get his best team out for that one.
However, Lawrie insisted that tinkering with the squad this week does not mean that Edinburgh are not taking Europe seriously, rather it should be viewed as an exercise of getting the best out of the squad by giving players with something to prove a chance to assert their credentials. Edinburgh are three matches into a gruelling run of 13 consecutive game weeks on the trot, so some squad rotation is inevitable.
“It’s an interesting dynamic because, obviously, we are re-integrating the Scottish [World Cup] guys steadily, and the Challenge Cup represents another opportunity for us to do that,” said the former Edinburgh and Scotland hooker, who joined Cockerill’s coaching team during the summer. “It also, potentially, offers an opportunity to give other guys a chance, because we recognise that we have this 13-game stretch and we are going to have to utilise our squad.
“The league is absolutely the priority, but it doesn’t affect how we approach this game,” he continued. “The fans get excited about playing in Europe, as do we as coaches and players, so our preparation hasn’t changed.
“It’s exciting. You get to go to France, you get to play different opposition, so it is a little bit different to what we are used to.
Relishing a new challenge
“Certainly, the French Top 14, in terms of our preview … it’s pretty blunt, you are going to have some big men coming hard at you pretty close to the ruck, so we are going to have to match that with our physicality.
“That’s something we’re looking forward to getting our teeth into, and it means there is a bit of a different focus in terms of our preview compared to what we play in the PRO14.
Lawrie added that he is confident that Edinburgh now have sufficient strength in depth to swap a number of players in and out without significantly undermining the team’s competitiveness.
“The start we’ve had to the season has allowed us to do that in terms of guys taking opportunities, we’ve got to be able to trust the guys to get the job done,” he said.
“We’ve got a good squad and we recognise the depth of our squad, and that will be represented in the team we pick to go to Agen, and then Bordeaux and then Munster [back in the PRO14], which is a massive game.”
Lawrie acknowledge that Friday’s game is a step into the unknown, and recognised that it is possible that Agen won’t take the game terribly seriously – but added that it is, in his view, far more likely that they will be desperate to use the game to build some much need momentum after a flat start to the season which has seen them manage just one win and a draw from nine matches so far in French Top 14.
“They’re sitting second bottom in their league and they had a tough result against Bordeaux at the weekend, but I also recognise in their results that they’re very tough at home and they’re very proud,” he reasoned.
“So, we’ll be expecting an extremely strong team and then potentially less so for their second pool game [against Wasps the following Saturday] because that gives them a down week before they go back into fighting for their lives in the Top 14. So, I expect them to be strong at home this weekend.
“Who knows though, they might give opportunities to some of their ‘Espoirs’ [academy players], but I certainly won’t be expecting that.”