Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill says there would be no better time to end their poor away form than this evening’s crunch Guinness Pro14 Conference B clash with Scarlets in Llanelli.
The capital pro team haven’t won outside Scotland in the league all season, with the 1872 Cup victory over Glasgow at Scotstoun is their only success on the road. The coach wants his players to put that right as they face a tight battle to finish in the top three and return to the play-offs, with this evening’s opponents just two points behind fourth-placed Edinburgh.
Cockerill has made just one change from the side who came so close in last weekend’s 17-13 loss at home to Munster in the Heineken Champions Cup, with Scotland centre Mark Bennett replacing the injured James Johnstone in the midfield.
Edinburgh have registered big away wins in Europe and Cockerill doesn’t believe there is a psychological block when it comes to away games.
“We’re more than capable,” said the coach. “If we can go to Toulon, or go to Newcastle or go to Glasgow we are capable of doing it. Some of those other away games we should have closed out and didn’t. We have got a good side out with a lot of experience and so have they. We have got to go and do the job, it is as simple as that.”
On Johnstone’s injury, Cockerill added: “James has a calf strain and is probably out four to six weeks. Hopefully he will play again this season depending on how much we get into it.”
Scarlets welcome back six of Wales’ Grand Slam-winning squad to their starting line-up. Skipper Ken Owens, prop Rob Evans, scrum-half Gareth Davies, centres Jonathan Davies and Hadleigh Parkes as well as wing Steff Evans are recalled in a team showing eight changes from the defeat by Cardiff Blues last time out.
“They are a good side,” said Cockerill of the 2017 champions and 2018 runners-up. “They have not done what they have done over the last four or five years without being a good side and there are a lot of players in that team who were in the Welsh team that won the Grand Slam.
“We have trained for them to bring back all their main players, they haven’t played together while we have had a couple of run-outs including last week. They have been resting their guys and hopefully it will take them a little while to find their rhythm while we will be straight into it. We have got to be very good.” Edinburgh have struggled during the Test windows but Cockerill is ready to fully load his side every week as they strive to make the play-offs, keep alive hopes of being in the Celtic Park final in May and, crucially, secure a return to the Champions Cup next season.
“We are the victims of our own success to a degree,” said Cockerill. “We have done well and the environment is strong and a lot of guys have been picked for the national team, which is great but the consequence is that we are having to take guys on loan and have Academy guys coming in to full spots in the 23 when we are in international windows.
“Part of that is that it makes us weaker. Also some of those games, we should have done better. In the league we can’t lose at Kings when we have an eight-point lead with six or seven minutes to go; we can’t be 17-0 up against Cardiff and get beaten 17-19.
“It won’t be this week that gets us out of the top three, it will be what’s happened before but there are some mitigating circumstances around that. If we’re going to have so many Test players away on a regular basis we’re going to have to try to build a deeper squad.”