IN the red corner, a team with a formidable home record who have been able to welcome back some of their biggest names for this game. In the orange-and-blue corner, a team who have yet to win on the road this season, who lost to one of the poorest sides in the PRO14 as recently as Sunday, and who have by necessity selected a severely inexperienced line-up for this match.
Let’s face it, if this were a boxing bout, the referee might well take a look at the two mismatched combatants and call the whole thing off before it started. But the heavyweights of Munster can be beaten tonight (Friday), according to Richard Cockerill, and no matter how badly depleted his squad might be because of injuries and the need to rest international players, the Edinburgh coach will demand that his players do all they can to take the game to their opponents.
“We’re going there to win,” Cockerill said after naming a team that shows nine changes from the 15 that began the 18-12 loss to the Dragons five days ago. “We’re going there to put our best foot forward and have a big performance and see where we get to.
“There are no predictions. The prediction is . . . . we are trying to win and get as many points out of the game as we can. How realistic that is, we’ll see.
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“I’m not trying to kid anyone here. It’s going to be a huge test for us, for obvious reasons. We’re not pretending we’re favourites going there, but we’re going to work as hard as we can. It’s not a foregone conclusion, but we will have to go exceptionally well to stay with them and we know that. That is stating the obvious, we all know that.”
It is no disrespect to this particular Edinburgh squad to say that they would not be favourites to beat any of their PRO14 rivals away from home, never mind a side as strong as Munster. The Irish province welcome Lions scrum-half Conor Murray back for his first start of the season, and have been able to include most of their internationals who were on duty in the Autumn Tests. Peter O’Mahony, rested by Ireland for last week’s win over the United States, returns as captain.
For Cockerill, the main positive aspect of the team he has chosen to take on such experienced hosts is the chance it gives his fringe players to prove their worth. Centre George Taylor, for example, has had to wait patiently for this, his first competitive start for the team, but according to the coach if he plays exceptionally well in this game he might not have to wait too long before making his second start.
“If George Taylor knocks it out the park, I have no problem with that. If he kills it and he’s playing at the top of his game, he’s putting pressure on the guys above him, so there are opportunities for everybody – and a test of character for us as well across the board.
“We’re not going there to fulfil the fixture: we’re going there to make it as hard as we can and to get as many points as we can. So it’s a test for everyone. Sometimes you have these tests. It’s as simple as that.
“We haven’t the size of squad to cope with international call-ups and all the injuries we have. If we didn’t have the injuries we’ve got we could put a very different side out, but we’re at where we’re at and we should all understand that and get behind the team.”
Edinburgh should benefit if the weather stays wet and windy, at least in the sense that Munster will have to adopt a more cautious approach. On the other hand, the trickier the conditions, the more the home team will keep it tight – and there are few better sides than Munster when it comes to a close-quarters arm wrestle.
Cockerill’s positive spirit has galvanised Edinburgh since he took over a year and a half ago, and his talking up of his team’s chances for this game is wholly understandable. Realistically, though, Edinburgh will do well to limit the damage here, and if they get a losing bonus point out of the game they may travel home relatively satisfied. If they are to do any more than that, they will surely have to play out of their skins while relying on Munster to have an off day.