Edinburgh prop Rory Sutherland believes complacency was behind their late-season collapse to a poor ninth place but is confident lessons have been learned and a top-four finish is possible this term.
The 24-year-old loosehead took his Scotland cap count to three when he stepped in to replace Alasdair Dickinson after he got injured in the first Test of the Japan tour and is set to do the same in the colours of Edinburgh in the first part of the season as the more experienced man continues his recovery from a hamstring problem.
Deputising for Dickinson was a role the young Borderer became accustomed to last season with the first-choice loosehead spending a lot of time on international duty, although Sutherland is not taking the No 3 jersey for granted.
Edinburgh begin their Guinness Pro12 campaign at Cardiff Blues on Saturday evening and Sutherland said there is a burning determination in the squad to make amends for last season’s slide to ninth following back-to-back eighth-place finishes. It was a sorry end to a campaign which had promised much, with Edinburgh topping the table early on. Another push at the start of the year, including a festive double over Glasgow, seemed to have Alan Solomons’ men on course for a decent placing, but they fell away badly in the end.
“It was frustrating,” said Sutherland. “I think we were at the top of the league for the first five, six games last season, and we fell off. I don’t know if we got complacent – I think that was maybe one of the problems, we got a little bit complacent, we got comfortable and let other teams get on top of us. We just went downhill from there.
“It was frustrating, and the more we tried to pull it back the worse it seemed to get.”
Asked where the complacency had sprung from, the prop said: “I’m not sure. I suppose it’s never happened to us before.
“We’ve never experienced it for a long time, being at the top of the table.
“They say winning’s a habit. We maybe did get into the habit of winning, but got complacent along the way as well.”
Sutherland knows Dickinson’s injury gives him another opportunity to progress but is not personally complacent on that score. “I wouldn’t say I’m guaranteed,” he said. “I still have to play well to keep my spot, and we’ve got cover in Allan Dell and Jack Cosgrove now. Dicko is out, but I’ll still have to play well to keep my place – and hopefully play well enough so I can keep my place when he’s back fit as well.
“I’m looking forward to the season ahead.I am starting this week, but I’ll have to keep playing well to get that starting jersey.”
Sutherland believes a play-off place is not beyond Edinburgh and added: “You push yourself as far as you can. We play to the best of our ability every week and we’ve got to hope that that’s enough. But I think realistically this year we can get a top-four finish.”