Edinburgh v Newcastle: Jamie Ritchie looks forward to ‘fresh start’ in Europe

Back-row forward believes his team are well placed to qualify from their pool if they do themselves justice

Edinburgh forward Jamie Ritchie
Edinburgh forward Jamie Ritchie won his sixth Scotland cap against Argentina last month. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson.

EDINBURGH may be facing an uphill struggle to get into the PRO14 play-offs after losing three of their last four games, but the return of their frontline players from international duties has brought about a real sense of optimism within the squad when it comes to Europe. While there are endless permutations to take into account in the league, in pool five of the Champions Cup the picture could hardly be clearer: beat Newcastle Falcons home and away over the next fortnight – on Friday at BT Murrayfield and then the following Sunday at Kingston Park – and Edinburgh will be in the driving seat for a place in the quarter-finals.

Such an achievement is easier said on paper than done in practice, of course, and as group leaders Newcastle will hardly be a walkover. But after a narrow loss in Montpellier in their opening pool match, Edinburgh enjoyed a morale-boosting bonus-point win at home to three-time former champions Toulon, and that has convinced them that they are good enough to thrive at this level.

“We were unlucky not to win in Montpellier,” Jamie Ritchie believes. “We had opportunities to do so and if we’d had a different rub of the green might have won. We came away with a losing bonus point, which is almost like a five-point swing if we can win at home.

“We played really well against Toulon before the Autumn [Tests] and were delighted to get five points against them as well. We have to back that up in January when we go over there. We’re sitting in a good spot in Europe and are looking to get out of the group.

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“It’s good for everyone to be back together and we’re looking forward to getting stuck into the next two weeks. Europe offers a bit of a fresh start coming off the back of the Autumn period when a few guys have been away and we’ve had some performances we would have liked to go the other way.”

In common with the other Edinburgh players who had been on recent international duty, Ritchie was given last week off, and he appreciated the break after the demands of playing Test rugby week after week. “It was kind of a whirlwind experience for me being involved in every game and playing my first game at Murrayfield in front of a sell-out crowd,” the flanker said. “That was all pretty cool, emotionally tiring and obviously physically tiring playing every week.

“It was amazing, but it was nice to get away from all that – get away from rugby for a while and spend a bit of time with my kids, who have not seen as much of me in the last five-= to six weeks as they probably would have liked, hopefully would have liked. It was nice to get away and relax a wee bit – recover and hopefully be ready for the next couple of weeks. Good to go.”

One disappointment for Ritchie will be the absence from the Falcons team of John Hardie, his former mentor at Edinburgh. The Scotland openside left the capital at the end of last season and joined Newcastle in October as a replacement for the injured Will Welch, but he has yet to be registered by his new club for Europe so will sit out Friday’s match.

Edinburgh v Newcastle: Richard Cockerill rejoices in Test players’ return

About Stuart Bathgate 1412 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.