Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has expressed faith that his “collective” can get the better of Toulon’s “individuals” once again, according to centre Chris Dean.
The capital team fly out to the south of France today ahead of tomorrow’s Heineken Champions Cup crunch at the Stade Mayol. Another win over the French giants, who Edinburgh thumped 40-14 at BT Murrayfield in October, could see them win Pool 5 and seal qualification for the quarter-finals ahead of next week’s visit of Montpellier.
Cockerill had a six-month coaching spell at the three-time European champions and Dean, who scored the bonus-point clinching fourth try in the home win, revealed the coach has been telling his players to revel in another shot at the star-studded outfit.
“He [Cockerill] has obviously talked about them being a rock star team. A collective beats an individual and that’s a big emphasis for us,” said Dean. “If our systems and collective and physicality work for each other, we’ll beat their individuals.”
The 24-year-old from North Berwick would never claim rock-star status but quietly he and fellow former Scotland Sevens man James Johnstone have been forging an impressive midfield unit for Cockerill’s in-form side.
“It’s been pretty good. We know each other well, played a lot of sevens together,” said Dean of the partnership. “We just enjoy getting opportunities out there. We’re both open to the fact that we’re not the stars on the squad sheet but we enjoy getting out there and doing our jobs well. If we do that the team benefits.”
It remains to be seen if the centres’ form has been enough to make the Scotland Six Nations squad when it is announced next week but Dean insisted there was no chip on shoulders about the fact that the national 12 and 13 jerseys have been pretty much a Glasgow-only club for a few years now.
“I’ve never really thought about that,” he said. “It’s great to get out and have the opportunity to play these kind of guys who have played at a higher level and go and compete. In the Glasgow games we competed really well and I’d like to think we contributed well to both the wins. So it’s been good fun.”
Outshining the likes of Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar and Peter Horne has the Edinburgh centres in good heart for another potential clash with the wrecking ball that is Toulon captain Mathieu Bastareaud.
“It’s brilliant. You’re playing guys who are some of the biggest names in rugby,” said Dean. “You’ve just got to tackle them low I guess.”
The former Edinburgh Academy pupil is relishing a sustained stint as first-choice after what has been an in and out start to his professional career, marked by highs like scoring the dramatic late winning try in the 2017 derby win over Glasgow.
At the start of the season Cockerill was open about the fact he saw the international pairing of Matt Scott, who rejoined the club in the summer, and Mark Bennett as the heart of his backline but both have been hit by injuries and Dean has grabbed his chance.
“It’s probably been like that every year I’ve been here,” he said. “They’ve signed guys and I’ve managed to nose my way through at some point. That’s just how rugby is. You’ve got to have strength in depth. It’s a professional sport, new guys are signed.
“You just need to adapt and keep improving yourself. You can’t get stuck in a rut of thinking ‘I’m not going to be playing this year’ you just have to keep training hard and things come your way if you play well.”
Despite both players having sevens backgrounds, the Dean-Johnstone centre pairing has been more conservative than cavalier and, for the time being at least, that will stay in the file marked ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.
“You get people asking why can’t you guys score more tries, you need to add that to your game,” said Dean. “Well, I’d rather win and snuff Glasgow out of the game, frustrate them, than give them opportunities in games when they do have players who can score from the length of the field.
“It’s the way we play, It’s the way Cockers wants us to play. And at the moment it’s working. I don’t think we’ll go off script too much.”
Dean accepts, however, that Edinburgh do have lethal weapons out wide in the form of wingers Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe, and full-back Blair Kinghorn, waiting to be unleashed when the time comes.
“We’ve got a fantastic back three and our next step as a team is developing a gameplan to involve them as much as possible,” said the centre. “It’s something we’re working on week to week. I guess some games dictate that.”
Dean was pretty clear that tomorrow would not be the game to throw caution to the wind. “Probably not,” he said with a smile. “I think we’ll go out there with confidence in our gameplan that has worked recently. If opportunities arise we’ll definitely go for them but the main thing is getting those wins.”