TWO weeks into a new season is not normally a time when a team would welcome a break. But then, Edinburgh would not normally finish one season in September then begin another a fortnight later. Nor would they normally lose five games on the bounce – not, at least, under Richard Cockerill.
Saturday’s 25-23 loss in Munster continued a sequence of defeats that began in the second of the August derbies. It is the worst run of the head coach’s tenure, and although the loss in Limerick was a distinct improvement on the previous week’s home defeat by Ospreys, this is still clearly a team who are short on confidence.
A break and a chance to reset and rethink some things should therefore be welcome. It will in any case be a very different Edinburgh side who will resume their PRO14 campaign at home to Connacht in a fortnight, as their international contingent will be unavailable. All the more reason, then, for them to be pleased to have some extra time to assess where they stand and to repair some basic flaws.
“Absolutely,” was scrum-half Nic Groom’s reply on Saturday night when asked if this was a good time to have a two-week break. “We’re looking at a few uninterrupted weeks in the near future. I think as part of that we use this time wisely; we balance the time off with rest and the chance to get better and work on certain things. I think it will do us good.
“We need to dig out what we can take on from this game. I think right now everyone’s head is spinning a bit. We’re obviously extremely disappointed. We had our chances and we had some good plans – unfortunately we just didn’t execute some of them and we came up short.
“There were definitely some lapses of concentration. I put my hand up – I made the odd mistake. I guess the challenge for us is how do we become better in those moments as a team.
“We definitely had a chance to win the game. It just seems like a bit of a trend – we run into intercept trouble in some key moments.”
Edinburgh did a lot of things right at Thomond Park, outscoring their hosts by two tries to one and defending extremely well until conceding the crucial score three minutes from time. But they also did a lot of things wrong, not only by conceding too many penalties, but also by making a lot of unforced errors.
It was certainly not too casual an attitude that caused those errors, as can sometimes be the case. Instead, as Groom accepted, the problem was at least in part a nervousness born of a lack of confidence.
“Is it a confidence thing? I think confidence does play a huge role: it’s a massive thing in sport. The challenge for us now is to really pull together and start to build something within ourselves as a group, because we’re going to have to lean on each other for the confidence. At the moment we can’t look to past results, we’re not going to get in there: we’re only going to get it through working harder and through demanding more from our team-mates, which we will definitely do.”
Despite his self-criticism, on balance Groom made a significant, positive difference to the team, having missed the Ospreys game through injury. And Cockerill will rely on the South African to keep making that difference through the autumn, when, with co-captains Grant Gilchrist and Stuart McInally expected to be absent on Scotland duty, Groom and Henry Pyrgos will take over the leadership role.
With so many players away with Gregor Townsend’s squad, and others such as Bill Mata on the injured list for at least several weeks more, Edinburgh face a challenging few months. A win in their next game could change the whole complexion of things, although Connacht, the Irish province invariably least affected by international call-ups, are likely to be very difficult opponents.
But Groom, for one, will not be overawed by the task ahead. The 30-year-old always manages to strike a judicious balance between realism and optimism, and, while acknowledging the difficulties ahead, insisted that there were also grounds for hope and enthusiasm.
“It’s definitely a massive opportunity for us as a group,” he added. “We’re definitely going to be challenged: we’re going to have guys playing games who haven’t played for a long time.
“For me personally, that’s something I’m excited about. I’m excited to see how we respond as a group, I’m excited to see some guys who have really worked their tails off week after week who are ready to go, and I myself am going to use whatever experience and expertise I have and I’m going to work extra hard to make sure that if given the opportunity I’ll do my best to lead.
“I think it’s a great chance for us to start building some identity again. We’ve got a break now, we’re going to have a new-look squad, a bit of a clean slate in some ways. I see it as a massive opportunity for this club.”