Al Dickinson set on driving Edinburgh to Champions Cup

Scotland prop Alasdair Dickinson concedes that the top four play-offs may now be beyond Edinburgh but he is fired up to help the push to ensure a return to the European Champions Cup.

Edinburghs Al Dickinson desperately wants a strong finish to the Guinness Pro12 season. Picture: SNS.
Edinburghs Al Dickinson desperately wants a strong finish to the Guinness Pro12 season. Picture: SNS.

The 32-year-old loosehead was back training with his club yesterday after playing a key role in the national team’s Six Nations campaign and it looks like he will be thrust straight into the battle to secure a top-six finish in the Guinness Pro12 when Edinburgh travel to face Newport Gwent Dragons on Sunday.

“I feel fine. When you get to this age it’s better to keep going,” said Dickinson. “If you stop, you might seize up and think ‘oh, I’m actually pretty sore’. It’s fine, just crack on. It’s good to be back.”

Glasgow’s win last Friday nudged Edinburgh out of the top half of the table and, with international players returning to the fold, Alan Solomons’ men need a strong finish to the season. It’s not going to be easy with trips to Leinster and Munster to come following Sunday’s match at Rodney Parade, with Zebre and Cardiff the two remaining home games. This year’s Pro12 final is at BT Murrayfield but Dickinson admits any slim hopes that the home team could make it to the showpiece are now gone.

“I think it probably is,” he said when asked if the play-offs are now beyond the capital outfit. “The top four are probably pulling away. You never know, but we just have to focus on winning every game. Bare minimum of top six, and if other results go our way we could maybe sneak into the top four. There are five games left that we need to win.”

After back-to-back eighth-place finishes in the past two seasons, the former Dundee HSFP and Heriot’s man feels a top-half placing and return to the top table of European competition could be considered a success.

“Mathematically, yes, it would be,” he said. “But we were desperate for top four. It’s quite frustrating: there were games that we definitely should have won but didn’t, and there were easy points dropped.

“If we win our remaining games we’re going to be in with a shout. We need to start winning.

“Glasgow have still got a game in hand, so I think they’ll go well.

“But we’ve got our own ambitions of being top six, and we’re going to have to win the majority of our games if we’re going to be in contention.

“We’ve got the Dragons this week, which is a really tough place to go and win – hard players and a vocal home crowd.”

Solomons will name his team tomorrow and, with the stakes so high, it looks like the Test contingent, which also includes the rest of Scotland’s in-form front row, Ross Ford and WP Nel, and openside John Hardie, could be straight back in.

“It’s good to get back in your club environment with your everyday mates, because you’re pretty much out of it for the majority of the Six Nations,” continued Dickinson. “And we’ve got big games coming up if we want to finish top six, so I’m looking forward to the weekend and playing for Edinburgh again.”

Dickinson, who took his cap tally to 57 in Dublin last weekend, senses a confidence among the Edinburgh players that they can finish the season strongly and end it on a positive note.

He said: “Yes. Maybe it doesn’t show as much in our league position, but there’s a real confident squad, especially after last year when we had a slight taste of success.

“We’re quite a close-knit group and there’s a lot of self-belief – it’s just about cutting out silly errors and penalties.

“That’s what’s beating us at the minute – those silly things. So we need to get back to doing the basics well and winning on the road, which is a major sticking point as well.

“The Dragons away has always been a really tough test. We know we have to perform at our best to put any pack under pressure. Those of us coming back from Scotland duty know we’ve got a job to do, and I’m just looking forward to getting back in the jersey and getting a run out.”

In previous years Edinburgh have run out of steam a bit towards the end of campaigns, with the distraction of last season’s run to the Challenge Cup final contributing to a late drop-off that cost them a place in the elite European competition.

“I do believe we’re in a lot better position now,” insisted Dickinson. “Guys are more experienced and I think we’re in better shape now.

“There are five really important games and the pressure’s on – we have to learn from the last two seasons and make this a leap rather than a winding-down. The biggest thing is trying to battle fatigue – mental as much as physical. We’re in a good place.”