Edinburgh v Munster: ‘If we get it right, we can beat anybody’ – Richard Cockerill

Head coach accepts his team lack experience at highest level but believes they can rise to the occasion against Munster

Richard Cockerill watches his Edinburgh squad train at Murrayfield. Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson.

RICHARD Cockerill is confident that Edinburgh have the beating of any opposition on their day, but has again insisted that his team are not yet ready to win the Champions Cup.

To some, those two statements may seem contradictory, but to the head coach it is a simple question of consistency. At their best, Edinburgh can beat more experienced opponents such as Munster, whom they meet at Murrayfield on Saturday in the quarter-final of European rugby’s premier tournament. But they are not at their best often enough. Not yet anyway.

And, while they have a pack that increasingly looks like being able to rival any other on the continent, their lack of big-game experience could tell against them – as it did last season when they lost their Challenge Cup quarter-final at home to Cardiff Blues. “We froze on that occasion and didn’t play well,” the head coach said on Tuesday. “Physically we’re very good, we just need to take care we don’t get overawed by the occasion. Our set piece is good, tactically we’ll be very smart in how we play, and if we get it right, we can beat anybody. And I mean anybody.

Edinburgh complete ‘#MagicMonday’ signing blitz with two-year deal for Hamish Watson

Portobello support the campaign to end cash only rugby bars

SRU SGM: Council motion carries but tone of meeting leaves bitter taste

“We’re a good side and we’re probably set up for knockout rugby more than week-in, week-out rugby at the moment. We’ve got to learn to win. We’ve got to find a way to win, because that’s an important part of our development as a team, learning how to win and then grow our game from a more holistic sense. But we’ve got to win first.”

Edinburgh certainly learned from that loss to Cardiff, and if they did not quite figure our how to win when they visited Munster in the PRO14 play-offs, at least they ran the Irish province pretty close. But Cockerill knows that Saturday’s opponents learned how to win a long time ago, and believes that is a fact which makes the visitors favourites to progress to a last-four meeting with either Saracens or Glasgow Warriors.

“It was tight – it was a four-point ball game,” he said of that match against Munster. “We gave away a loose try and a bit of [Simon] Zebo magic opened us up. But we played them at Independence Park earlier in the season and physically they battered us, they absolutely killed us. So we’ve got to make sure we match the physical aspects of their game.

“They’re a good side, aren’t they? They have all the European history. It’s part of the learning curve for us to play in all these big games. We’ve knocked off some big European teams. Munster are a big European team.

This is the 18th time they’ve been in the knockout stages. This is the third we’ve been here. They’ve won it twice. They will have ambitions of being European champions. We are still a team that is growing.

Are we expected to win Europe? Do we have ambitions to win Europe? No, we don’t, because we’re not a good enough side.

We’re building on that and coming here to win. I don’t want to give this opportunity away. I don’t want to be satisfied with thinking we’ve got to the quarters, we’ve done well. We have a good team and good players.”

“We’re going to go full blown into the battle and take them full on. We are going to enjoy the contest and see if we’re good enough to do it. We’ll try and out-Munster Munster, as we’re two sides that play quite similar rugby.”

Day of the underdog

It has become clear that Cockerill prefers to portray his team as underdogs as he feels it suits their psychology better, and there may come a day when he has to alter that way of thinking and insist to his players that they are the best team out there and should go and prove it. But in the case of Saturday at least, he is surely correct to insist that the visitors are favourites, thanks largely to their longstanding ability to qualify for big games and to acquit themselves outstandingly in them.

“We’re a Scottish team, we’re best when we’re underdogs, it’s as simple as that,” he added. “But we’re up for the battle. We’re not coming here to just fulfil the fixture.

“If we get it right we’ll beat them, but we’ve got to get it right and we’ve got to front up in these big games. We’ll be well prepared, have a lot of belief in what we do and we’re coming here to win.

“But I’m not sure if Munster came here and beat us it would be a surprise. I think it would be more of a surprise if we beat them, because they’re a good side and they’ve got that pedigree, and they’ve done it year in and year out.

“They’re used to winning games of this calibre. I’m not sure we are – yet. But this could be the starting point for us.”

Helen Nelson captains ‘strongest ever’ Scotland Sevens squad for Hong Kong


About Stuart Bathgate 1427 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.