THE Edinburgh bandwagon will pitch up in Wales this evening as Richard Cockerill’s men look to consolidate their play-off aspirations against the Dragons. The capital outfit will arrive in Ebbw Vale in high spirits having picked up two important wins over Irish opposition in recent weeks thanks to some breath-taking last-minute heroics.
There is a feel-good factor about the squad, bolstered by news earlier this week that hometown boy Matt Scott is due to return next season after two years playing for Gloucester in the English Premiership. And Cockrill’s recruitment drive – which has also seen current Scotland captain John Barclay and former New Zealand Under-20 stand-off Simon Hickey sign on for next season – is not over yet.
“We’ve got some more coming in but we’re not ready to announce that. We’d hope to announce another three signings in the near future,” said the coach.
In the meantime, the forthright Englishman was keen to focus on the immediate task in hand.
“The guys are working hard. We’ve been trying to stay in the battle for as long as we can to see where that gets us – especially against the bigger teams – and we managed to do it against Glasgow and Stade, and now against Leinster and Ulster. So, yes, it is very pleasing [that Edinburgh have picked up this happy knack of winning games late,” he said.
“Our expectation is to go and try to win every game. Another challenge for us is this weekend and trying to get it right against supposedly lesser opportunity, which has always been a challenge for this group – so we need to get that right.
“We’ve got a very tough run in – we’ve got Ulster, we’ve got Scarlets, we’ve got Munster, we’ve got Glasgow and Treviso are one of the form sides of the confidence at the moment – so we’re just trying to get as many points as we can to see where we end up.”
“Clearly it is in our own hands, but there is still a tough run to go. We want to try and qualify for Europe and we can do that from third spot or we can do it from fourth spot if we win the play-off.”
Edinburgh are currently third in Conference B of the Guinness Pro 14, just ahead of Ulster on points difference.
“I don’t think our expectation has changed – we just need to keep playing as well as we can and keep working hard – and if we do that we’ll give ourselves opportunity to hopefully do something good in the season,” added Cockerill.
“We’re building it slowly. The players have worked very hard at training, and they are seeing the reward for it. And the more they see the reward the harder they’ll work and the more they’ll believe in themselves.
“We won four games at the death – that’s not an accident or a coincidence – it’s because we give ourselves opportunities to still be in the fight. At the weekend, when Magnus Bradbury win the penalty, as soon as Duncan Weir got the ball into touch I knew we were a good enough team to carve out an opportunity to win the game. That’s a day-by-day thing – keep working hard and keep breeding that mentality – and we’re getting a bit of confidence and a bit of belief.”
“We’re missing a lot of good players as well, so hopefully we can just keep building our strength in depth, and when guys come back from Test duty we can reinforce that belief and make some of the top sides sweat a little bit in the play-off race.”
Edinburgh are without centre Mark Bennett tonight, but that is not a major concern looking forward.
“He’s got a slight reaction to his knee. He got a bang on it last week at Ulster, so we’re just resting him and looking after him. He’ll be fit for next week,” explained Cockerill.
Jamie Ritchie’s prognosis is that he will be out slightly longer. However, with John Hardie back in the fold after his suspension, Viliame Mata in fine form now that he has had a spell of being injury free, Magnus Bradbury and Cornell du Preez released down by Scotland, Luke Crosbie chomping at the bit after being handed his first senior contact just before Christmas, and Ally Miller desperate to translate his impressive performances for Melrose in the BT Premiership into the pro game, there are still plenty of options available to Cockerill in the back-row.
“He [Ritchie] went over on his ankle in training. That’s come back pretty positive, so he probably won’t be fit for Munster, but by the time we get back after the break for Connacht he’ll be fit,” said the coach.
Edinburgh (v Dragons at Eugene Cross Park in Ebbw Vale, tonight [Friday], 7.30pm): D Fife; J Harries, J Johnstone, C Dean, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, S Hidalgo-Clyne; J Lay, N Cochrane, M McCallum, F McKenzie, L Carmichael, M Bradbury, J Hardie, W Mata. Substitutes: C Fenton, R Sutherland, E Millar-Mills, C Du Preez, L Crosbie, N Fowles, D Weir, J Rasolea.