THE league points on offer might be inconsequential, and the 1872 Cup was wrapped up last weekend, but Edinburgh No 8 Nick Haining says that the importance to his team of maintaining (and building) momentum means that Friday night’s clash against Glasgow Warriors at Murrayfield is of genuine significance to his club.
The Australian-born 29-year-old, who will be one of 10 players swapped into the Edinburgh starting team when it is announced at noon on Thursday, says that head coach Richard Cockerill has built up enough self-belief and strength in depth in his squad to ensure that a positive performance and result is still expected, despite the number of new faces in the line-up.
“Once you get a culture of winning at a club, continuing that momentum and that culture leads into the next game and gives you confidence,” said Haining, who made an impact off the bench for the capital outfit as they battled back from 13-15 down with an hour played to beat the Warriors 30-15 last Saturday evening. “During a game, when things get dicey or might not be going your way, you find a way to win in the end.
“You saw that last week, there was never any panic in the squad, we were down about the 60th minute and came back to win with two good tries. That’s the winning culture we’re building here and that momentum will take us forward, leading perfectly into the semi-finals and finals.
“We want to improve on last week’s performance,” he added. “There are things that didn’t go well in the game that we want to make sure we get right this week, then take that into the semi-final against Ulster and hopefully beyond. Glasgow got their tries from us losing the ball and them scoring a couple of phases later, so it is those sorts of lapses in concentration that cost us, and we want to address that.”
Inevitably, those players who have been switched in this week will view Friday’s match as an opportunity to stake a claim for a central role in the Ulster showdown eight days later. This is a particularly stiff challenge for Haining given that he plays in perhaps the most competitive position in the Edinburgh squad. As a No 8, he is in direct competition with star man Viliame Mata, while across the back-row there is raft of excellent options, including Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie and Luke Crosbie, ensuring a level of competition which inevitably drives up standards.
“I think it is quite fortunate that we haven’t played rugby for six months, so we’ve done a lot of training and that big build-up to these games has really created a buzz and anticipation in the team,” said Haining. “I know it is a dead-rubber but there are boys coming in who see places up for grabs in the finals, so they want to put their best foot forward for the coaches.
“We’ve got the confidence that everyone can step up,” he added. “That’s something Cockers [Cockerill] is very big on – that one person can go out and the next person comes in and there is no drop off.
“The boys coming in are all raring to go, myself included. There’s no reason to take the foot off the pedal. We’ll just hit the ground running and roll into this game, getting momentum going and leading into the semi-final on a good note.”
Haining was an unheralded recruit last summer, who hit the ground running whilst the internationalists were away on World Cup duty and maintained his good form through to the New Year, leading to a Scotland call-up at the start of the 2020 Six Nations [he qualifies through his Dundonian grandmother]. With eight starts and one appearance off the bench in the 15 games played so far in the truncated PRO14 season, he has been a key figure in Edinburgh securing a first ever home play-off.
Clearly, he has been good for Edinburgh, and Haining is in no doubt that Edinburgh has been good for him, too, which is why he recently stated that he would like to see out the remainder of his career at the club.
“I’ve got a bit more of a harder edge [since joining the club],” he said. “I always prided myself on my physicality but under the training with Cockers, the individuals I have around me, we’ve built a tough mentality and that physical edge is something I’ve developed.
“Also being able to express myself on a rugby field at times in Edinburgh – those elements have come together and progressed since being here, and that’s given me the opportunity to get into the Scotland squad and hold my hand up for selection.”
While self-expression isn’t a concept which immediately springs to mind when discussing Cockerill’s coaching style, it is clear that there is more layers to the punchy Englishman – who has recently agreed a two year contract extension with the club – than initially meets the eye.
“There is a stringent structure that you do have to keep to but he gives full licence to make good decisions on a rugby field, use your talent, and there is a lot of opportunities to do that,” insisted Haining. “You see with Duhan [van der Merwe] all the time, he’s allowed to express himself; and as back-rowers we [also] have full licence to have a go.
“It’s just doing it at the right times. The results speak for themselves, [but] if we’re playing that structure and not expressing ourselves and still winning, that’s what counts at the end.”
Haining’s arrival was after the Cockerill revolution was well under way, so he doesn’t have first-hand memories of the bad old days when Edinburgh were habitual architects of their own downfall, but he has heard the stories and is confident that the team has moved on for good.
“That’s been touched on, but we don’t dwell on the past too much,” he shrugged. “It’s something we’re aware of but we feel it’s not going to be the case this time round. We’re set with our strategy, we know there will be times in the game when it doesn’t go well but we have systems in place and players who can deal with those pressures. You see from our results that we deal with that and still get the wins we need. There’s no reason why that can’t continue into these games and the finals.”