Edinburgh v Montpellier: ‘We’re good enough to go and do it’ – Richard Cockerill

Coach admits his squad have surprised themselves with their Champions Cup displays this season

Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill.
Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill. Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson.

WHEN this Champions Cup campaign began back in October, neither Richard Cockerill nor his squad quite knew what to expect of themselves. They had not been in European rugby’s premier competition for five seasons, which for most of the squad meant that they had no experience of it at all, so there was little or no evidence which they could use to assess their chances.

But Edinburgh are a team that learns quickly, as they showed in their first game in the pool stages, away to Montpellier. After looking a little shellshocked at first, and struggling to withstand the physical onslaught from Vern Cotter’s side, they got back into the game and finished the stronger of the two teams, picking up a bonus point in a 21-15 defeat.

It may have been no more than a moral victory, but it was enough to demonstrate to the squad that they could live at that level. Three months and four victories later – two against Toulon and two more against Newcastle Falcons – they stand on the brink of a quarter-final place for just the third time in the history of the competition.

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Edinburgh v Montpellier: Richard Cockerill says ‘same again’ for crunch pool game

Any kind of victory or even a draw against Montpellier this evening [Friday] will be good enough to take them into the last eight as the winners of Pool Five – coincidentally ensuring that Glasgow will also go through from Pool Three no matter what happens in their game at Saracens. They could also go through despite a loss in certain circumstances, either as group winners or as one of the three best runners-up from the five pools.

But needless to say, Cockerill is not interested in such permutations. He simply wants the win that would give his team a home quarter-final, and round off a remarkable set of results for a side that were rank underdogs at the start of the pool stages.

Setting the sights high

“We probably never thought that we’d be in this position at the start of the pool stage,” Cockerill admitted yesterday after naming the same 23 that were on duty for last week’s win against Toulon. “But we’ve worked hard and we’ve got the results, and now we want a home quarter-final. We’ve earned the right to play for a home quarter-final and the players believe that we’re good enough to go and do it. It was a big ask for us to go and win last week, but we did it and we deserved to win.

“It’s going to be a really tough game against Montpellier and it’s a game we could easily lose, I’m very aware of that. But it’s also a game we could easily win. There are some games you just need to win, and this one is a game we just need to win.”

After that outstanding 28-17 win in Toulon, only injury was going to force Cockerill to make changes for this week, and he was pleased to say that everyone on duty then is fit. “You reward the performance from last week. We’ve had a full bill of health and from the players that are available that’s pretty much our best 23.”

Crowds at Murrayfield have been steadily picking up as the team have improved under Cockerill, and the attendance tonight is expected to be around 10,000 – roughly double the usual number who turn up for league games. “We’ve got a team that’s worth supporting,” Cockerill added. “When I arrived I said I wasn’t surprised that people didn’t come and watch, because we weren’t a very good team.

“Now, we are a good team, we’re doing some good things, and I’d really like as many people as possible to come and support their city team because the lads are doing the job. They are a team to be proud of, a team to come and watch, a team to be associated with because of what they’re doing.

“It’s going to be dark and it’s going to be cold and a bit wet. But I hope the crowd comes out in force to support their city and their team.”

Montpellier will not like those conditions, and have a poor away record in Europe anyway, but there is no way that Cockerill is going to take them lightly.

“It’s a very strong team, especially in that backline where 9, 10 and 12 are all Springboks,” he reasoned. “There’s a Springbok at 15, and Goosen is a very, very dangerous player. Immelman is another South African player of very good quality. So there’s a lot of quality in that team. If you look at Du Plessis and Du Plessis, they are quality players, and Picamoles has unbelievable quality.

“However, we feel that the sum of our parts is just as strong. Their individuals might be very strong but the weather’s going to be cold, and the sleet and the rain coming down. We’re just hoping to play our best game and get in the middle of them, make sure they don’t settle, and make it as uncomfortable as possible for them.”

Edinburgh (v Montpellier at BT Murrayfield, tomorrow 7.45pm, live on BT Sport): Blair Kinghorn; Darcy Graham, James Johnstone, Chris Dean, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco Van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos; Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally (captain), Willem Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Bill Mata. Substitutes: David Cherry, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Fraser McKenzie, Luke Crosbie, Nathan Fowles, Simon Hickey, Juan Pablo Socino.

Montpellier: Frans Steyn; Timoci Nagusa, Arthur Vincent, Jan Serfontein, Henry Immelman;  Johan Goosen, Ruan Pienaar; Grégory Fichten, Bismarck Du Plessis, Jannie Du Plessis, Nico Janse van Rensburg, Jacques Du Plessis, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Yacouba Camara, Louis Picamoles (captain). Substitutes: Vincent Giudicelli, Usha Tcheisvhili, Levan Chilachava, Kelian Galletier, Yvan Reilhac, Benoit Paillaugue, Vincent Martin, Paul Willemse.

Referee: JP Doyle (England).

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About Stuart Bathgate 1430 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.