IT’S going to be a long season. We already knew that in its literal, chronological sense, but after Edinburgh’s 25-10 defeat by Ospreys on Saturday night, it may also be true metaphorically, with the campaign becoming something of an endurance test for supporters and players alike.
Granted, it is unwise to extrapolate too far from the evidence of just one match, and Richard Cockerill’s team are sure to play far better than they did here in a lot of the PRO14 matches to come. But to have the depth of the Edinburgh squad so sorely tested so early has to be a concerning sign.
As the team prepare for this weekend’s visit to Munster, the back-row is a particular worry. Jamie Ritchie was ruled out of the Ospreys game because of Covid protocols and it is uncertain when he will be available to play again, while Bill Mata is on the sidelines for at least another month following ankle surgery. Of the two men injured in the first quarter at BT Murrayfield, Magnus Bradbury failed a head-injury assessment so needs to pass cognitive tests before being allowed back, while the severity of Luke Crosbie’s hamstring injury has yet to be fully assessed.
Every rugby team suffers injuries, of course, but it is already apparent that, compared to the likes of champions Leinster, Edinburgh are more adversely affected when they do lose players. Their current lack of depth was amply illustrated when, with the game drifting away from them, they had to bring on inexperienced half-backs Dan Nutton and Nathan Chamberlain. Nutton will drop down the pecking order at scrum-half when Henry Pyrgos and Nic Groom are fit again, but Chamberlain is set to continue deputising at 10 for Jaco van der Walt.
At least Blair Kinghorn and Duhan van der Merwe should be back against Munster, and the return of the two backs should be a significant boost to morale. But whoever starts on Saturday, the key thing according to Nick Haining will be to stick to the game plan while implementing a drastic reduction in the error count.
“Every game’s going to be tough this year,” the No 8 said. “We have to take some positives out of [the Ospreys defeat]: if we get rid of those errors, I think the game plan works. We have seen it works, so we have to put everything right next week.
“We have got a lot of things to fix, things that are an easy fix, errors that we can get out of our game. I have no doubt that we will front up like we always do.
“The effort was there, I think. We fronted up as a forward pack. We didn’t hide – that’s something that we pride ourselves on.
“I’ll take responsibility for my personal errors. We made that many errors, it’s hard to get a foothold in the game. We talked about it after the game and that’s where we let ourselves down.
“Very frustrating. There’s not really much more to say: it’s frustrating and it has to get better.”
You can read Edinburgh’s recent fixture list in two ways. On the one hand, with four hard games from late August onwards to round off last season – two against Glasgow, then the PRO14 semi-final against Ulster and the Challenge Cup quarter-final against Bordeaux – they should have embarked on the 2020-21 campaign far closer to optimal match fitness than would normally have been the case. On the other, given only one weekend off after the last of those four big games, they have not enough time to recharge their batteries.
But whichever interpretation you prefer, the fixture scheduling is out of their control, and therefore not worth fretting about. “It would have been nice to have a bigger break, but it’s the way it is,” Haining said. “Everybody is in the same boat. We had a good pre-season, we had our finals, we had a week off, and there’s no excuses really, we should have been better.
“We’re into a new season now, we had the week off, and we put that behind us. We should be hitting the ground running. To lose like that, with that many errors, wasn’t good enough.”