JAMES Johnstone may not play again this season as a result of the leg injury he sustained in Edinburgh’s Champions Cup defeat by Munster. The centre, whose place in midfield goes to Mark Bennett for this evening’s game at Scarlets, will be out for a month or more, so any further involvement will depend on his team’s reaching the PRO14 play-offs.
“James has a calf strain and is probably out for four to six weeks,” head coach Richard Cockerill said after announcing his squad for the Conference B match in Wales. “Hopefully he will play again this season, depending on how much we get into it.”
Edinburgh’s hopes of making it into the top three will not officially be extinguished should they lose to Scarlets, but they will certainly be dealt a severe blow. The team’s away deficiencies have been costly this season, but Cockerill, having seen them win some big games on the road, insisted that they can do it again in this match, the third last of the regular season.
“We’ve not been great on the road. We’ve had some big wins in Europe on the road, but we’ve only beaten Glasgow away from home in the league. We’re going to have to be very, very good. If you look at that Scarlets team, they’ve had an average season by their standards but this is probably the first time they’ve picked what is probably a full-strength side.
“We are more than capable: if we can go to Toulon, or go to Newcastle, or go to Glasgow [and win] we’re capable of doing it. Some of those other away games we should have closed out and didn’t. We’ve got a good side out with a lot of experience and so have they.
“We’ve got to go and do the job, it’s as simple as that. We’ve trained for them to bring back all their main players. They’ve not played together, while we’ve had a couple of run outs including last week. They’ve been resting their guys and hopefully it will take them a little while to find their rhythm, while we’ll be straight into it.
“We have got to be very good. It is going to be one tough game between two good sides that need to win. We have to play at the same level and at the same intensity and same commitment, enthusiasm and motivation that we had last week.”
Whether Edinburgh make the play-offs or not, Cockerill is convinced they will need a stronger, deeper squad if they are to make progress next season. With more and more of their players making it into Gregor Townsend’s national squad, they have been short of experience at times this season – one reason why the coach has recruited several players for the next campaign who are not Scotland-qualified.
“We’re the victims of our own success to a degree,” the coach added. “We’ve done well and the environment is strong and a lot of guys have been picked for the national team, which is great, but the consequence is that we are having to take guys on loan and have academy guys coming in to full spots in the 23 when we’re in international windows.
“That makes us weaker. It creates opportunities, but is not helpful from a depth point of view. Also some of those games, we should have done better. In the league we can’t lose at Kings when we have an eight-point lead with six or seven minutes to go; we can’t be 17-0 up against Cardiff and get beaten 17-19.
“It won’t be this week that gets us out of the top three, it will be what has happened before – but there are some mitigating circumstances around that. If we’re going to have so many Test players away on a regular basis we’re going to have to try to build a deeper squad.”