Edinburgh fringe players urged to battle for PRO14 play-off places

Edinburgh captain Fraser McKenzie wants the squad’s fringe players to give head coach Richard Cockerill a positive headache by putting in some good performances in the next three crucial ?Guinness Pro14 outings.
Edinburghs Fraser McKenzie wants coach Cockerill to have tough decisions on who to play. Picture: SNS/SRUEdinburghs Fraser McKenzie wants coach Cockerill to have tough decisions on who to play. Picture: SNS/SRU
Edinburghs Fraser McKenzie wants coach Cockerill to have tough decisions on who to play. Picture: SNS/SRU

The second row has issued a rallying call to his charges ahead of the games that could make or break their play-off chances, stating they are all “cup finals”.

The defeat by the Southern Kings in South Africa late last month left the capital side third in Conference B.

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With three play-off spots up for grabs from the section, leaders Leinster (58 points) are all but safe, but there is an almighty scrap building up, involving Benetton (37), Edinburgh (36), Scarlets (35) and Ulster (35), for the other two places.

Cockerill’s men struggled during November when they had players away on international duty and slipped up at the Kings when many of their top men were in a pre-Guinness Six Nations camp.

As a result, 30-year-old McKenzie knows just how important the next three matches are in the grand scheme of things against the Dragons, Cardiff Blues and Benetton during the Six Nations period.

The team will start the run of games this Friday against the Dragons at BT Murrayfield without a clutch of Scotland players.

And while there are still a number of weeks until Edinburgh’s Heineken Champions Cup last-eight tie with Munster on 30 March, McKenzie is encouraging the fringe members of the squad to use these next three outings to force their way into the matchday 23 for that one.

“This is a big opportunity whether you are a young guy or an old guy to stake a claim for the big matches that are around the corner,” he stated.

“Every game is huge, but you have to play well to try to keep your place and who is to say the Scotland guys are guaranteed their spots when they come back in.

“It is good to put the coaches under pressure to have to make those decisions. In years gone by we haven’t had the squad depth to do that.

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“The next three weeks is like three cup finals if you look at it; we need points from all three of these games coming up if we want to be in those play-offs. We know we are good enough to be a play-off side.

“We are looking forward to the games rather than being nervous.

“In years gone by in the last decade by this stage of the season it is almost dead rubber time for Edinburgh, but last year and this we know we are right in the mix.

“With the Scotland guys away there is a big reliance on those of us left to go out there and get results and that does create a buzz about the place.
“Leading the younger guys at this time is one of my main roles along with other experienced guys like Henry [Pyrgos] and Fordy [Ross Ford].

“It falls on us to make good decisions and carry the team through. There is a lot of talent in the squad, but sometimes direction is key and we need to play in the right areas.

“Out in South Africa against the Kings we made individual errors that cost us and ultimately it was our decisions that hampered us out there.

“It was unprofessional that we managed to lose that one.”

McKenzie, himself just recently back from a spell on the sidelines, has said Lewis Carmichael, 23, will get all the support he needs after his season was ended by an ACL knee injury.

He said: “Lewy is a fantastic player and he has a really tough time with injuries, but he will come back stronger.

“We are all there to support him, we are a tight-knit group and we look out for each other and I am always here for him if he wants to chat.”