THE bad news from Edinburgh’s defeat by Ospreys on Friday – besides the 17-13 scoreline itself, of course – is that many of the team’s old failings were back. The good news, as Richard Cockerill sees it, is that those failings can be readily rectified.
After all, that is precisely what the coach did when he took over a year ago – tighten up the team’s play in so many respects that games which would once have ended in narrow losses started to become narrow wins instead. So while the ease and frequency with which possession was lost in Swansea was disappointing, Cockerill knows that his players can quickly rediscover far better form – as they will need to do if they are to get anything out of their next PRO14 fixture, against Ulster in Belfast this Friday.
“A lot of these things we can mend immediately,” Cockerill said on Monday after reviewing the Ospreys match with his squad. “From the Bath game and turning the ball over 21 times to less than 10 against Newcastle we went back to doing it 21 times again against Ospreys. Some of those are easily fixed – and we have to fix them and do it.
“It is frustrating really, because we know we can play better than that. It was a pretty poor game full stop from both teams. If we were 10 per cent better we could have won the game. We played so poorly in some parts but still had a chance at the death to win the game.
“We would have had the points, but we still would have had the same issues to deal with. You’re always concerned as a coach when you don’t perform as well as you like and when you don’t win.
“That’s where this team is at. We have some new players and have to make sure these things gel. I don’t think Friday was about bad combinations. It was about bad decision making at times and poor skills. You can’t get stripped of the ball, or held up, or drop it or make poor decisions. You’re not going to win games if you do that, especially away from home.”
Cockerill’s belief in his players’ ability to bounce back will by demonstrated on Thursday by the selection of a pretty similar matchday 23. One change could see the return of Willem Nel, as the tighthead is available again after recovering from a knee injury, but the coach has decided that Magnus Bradbury needs some game time before making his return. That could mean a run out in the Tennent’s Premiership for the back-row forward in champions Melrose’s home game against Glasgow Hawks.
“Bradbury needs to play,” Cockerill said of the former captain, who has been out with a calf strain. He will probably play club rugby this weekend to get some minutes under his belt. WP is available.”
Nel could have a valuable contribution to make against an Ulster squad who beat Scarlets at the weekend and are now under the tutelage of former Scotland assistant coach Dan McFarland. “I watched them at the weekend and it was very physical,” Cockerill added. “It wasn’t a great spectacle, but they’ll be well motivated playing at home for the second week on the trot. I’m never quite sure how we play away from home at this part of the season but such is life. They’ll be very physical and direct and we’ll have to match that.”
Asked if McFarland, had been in the post long enough to make a difference, having only been released by the SRU late last month, Cockerill joked about how long it can take to really transform a side. “I’ve been here 14 months and I haven’t made a difference! No, look, Dan is a good coach and he’s going to take time to bed in. He has a good squad.
“He knows our lads probably more than I know his lads, but we’ll do our homework. It’s a game of rugby: I don’t think that intellect makes any difference whatsoever.
“To a larger degree there’s pressure on them as the home team to perform and win, and we want to put pressure on ourselves to make sure we go and play as well as we can. If we had played as well as we can on Friday night we would have won – but we didn’t.”