RICHARD COCKERILL has reported that there is no new injury concerns in his Edinburgh squad ahead of next Saturday’s PRO14 play-off semi-final clash against Ulster, which was one positive he could take out of a generally disappointing performance by his team in their 3-15 loss to Glasgow Warriors in the last game of their regular season at Murrayfield last night.
The other significant plus point was that a number of youngsters – including 20-year-old stand-off Nathan Chamberlain (playing a full 80 minutes in his first start of the clubs), 22-year-old scrum-half Charlie Shiel, 20-year-old replacement second-row Marshall Sykes and 20-year-old scrum-half replacement scrum-half Roan Frostwick – all picked up valuable game-time and didn’t look out of place.
“Charlie and Nathan did some good things but it is always difficult when you are on the back foot a bit,” said the coach “Glasgow got the result and will be happy but both teams played poorly. The good thing is that Ulster would have looked at that and got nothing out of it, plus no injuries.”
Cockerill played down the head knock picked up by winger Darcy Graham in a collision with Warriors flanker Tom Gordon in the final few minutes. “He came off as a precaution,” the Englishman stated. “He has 79 minutes under his belt and he got a bit of a bang so it was easier just to take him off as the game was over.”
He also dismissed the injury which led to prop Rory Sutherland leaving the field with four minutes to go as simply a head cut.
Whilst Cockerill didn’t try to pretend this was anything other than a poor match, he was generally philosophical about its significance in the grand scheme of things. In fact, he gave the impression that he rather welcomed his team being roughed up a little bit by their nearest and dearest rivals just eight days out from what he described as “the biggest [league] game in our history coming up against Ulster”.
“We were just a little under-powered, you could see that from the scrum – we were a little bit lightweight in the back five and that affected us a bit,” he said. “Nine and 10 did a good job but we were under pressure and Glasgow are a good side.
“It was a pretty average game full stop. We could all have gone home at half-time and wouldn’t have missed anything.
“It was what it was, we got some good minutes under our belt and looked after some players. We have to look at the bigger picture which is next weekend.
“We have never been in a semi-final before. We are a game away from a final and having a bash.
“For us to be champions we have to beat Ulster and then one of Munster and Leinster, which is a big ask but we have come this far so why not have a crack at it?
“There’s a few bumps and bruises but that’s to be expected. We have two days off, we will come back Monday and hopefully we will have a bit more about us next Saturday.”
Meanwhile, victorious head coach Danny Wilson explained the late call-off by second-row Richie Gray, less than two hours before kick-off.
“He had a family member that he was waiting for a test result from. He couldn’t come into the bubble without taking a big risk until that result was confirmed.
“Richie’s got no symptoms. Had the test results come back before kick-off, Richie would have played. They still weren’t in at 10 to six so we couldn’t take that gamble.”
If the loss of such an experienced and influential player was a set-back, it didn’t have a hugely damaging effect on the team. Whilst this was by no means a vintage performance, the power of the visiting pack was a key factor in the positive result.
“Our defensive display was excellent,” said Wilson. “Let’s remember you can list the internationals for Edinburgh, so for us to limit them to three points is a big step in the right direction. Credit to [defence coach] Kenny Murray and the defensive work he has done. We have put a lot of time into that.”
“We left some points out there,” he added. “We applied some good pressure and dominated set-piece so we have to look at how we didn’t convert those points.
“But breakdown was much better, it was a big emphasis going into the game. Attacking breakdown was poor last week, we didn’t win enough races, didn’t do enough on the floor, and both those things we did better and we had some better combinations in that area. That coupled with a really good defensive display was pleasing.”