Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill is paying no heed to talk of a Montpellier injury crisis and fully expects his promising side to receive a ferocious examination of their mettle in the south of France on Saturday.
The capital pro team are making their return to the top tier of European competition for the first time since 2013-14 and have been handed a brutally tough Pool 5 alongside former Scotland boss Vern Cotter’s side, as well as Toulon, who Cockerill had a temporary spell in charge of before taking the Edinburgh reins, and Newcastle Falcons.
Cockerill had a chance to watch the two French sides in the pool clash in the Top 14 on Sunday, Montpellier winning 29-17 at the 16,000-capacity Altrad Stadium, where Edinburgh travel this weekend.
The victory took Montpellier up to fourth in the French league after what Cotter has admitted to being a “sluggish” start to the season beset by a raft of injuries but Cockerill still views the task ahead as formidable.
“[Stand-off Johan] Goosen hurt himself yesterday and [Fijian wing] Nemani Nadolo didn’t start, I don’t know why, Fran Steyn didn’t play. That’s probably our budget really,” said the coach.
“They’ve got a strong squad obviously, depending on who is fit and if they’ve got injury issues and don’t pick those big hitters then I’ll be delighted. But they’re at home and I’m sure the depth of their squad is more than capable of coping with that.”
Cockerill is on the record as saying his team have no chance of winning the competition, while both the French sides are genuine contenders, and is viewing it as a massive testing opportunity for a side who burst back to life under his stewardship last season.
An ultra-competitive man who views every game as winnable, Cockerill was still cautious about setting any targets for Edinburgh’s return to what is a notoriously brutal competition. “It’s going to be a big ask isn’t it? You’ve got to win all your home games and do something away from home,” he said.
“We’ve got to do our best to go to Montpellier and play as well as we can and try to win. We’ve got Toulon next who aren’t having the best of seasons by their standards.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a dead cert we’ll get out of the group but we’ve got to pick our best team, that’s fit, and play how we want to play and see where we get to.”
Even if Montpellier don’t have their first choice XV on the field on Saturday, Cockerill is expecting nothing less than by far the toughest test his side have faced since he took charge last summer.
“They’ve got a winger [Nadolo] bigger than anyone in our forward pack. That’s what money buys,” said the Englishman.
“They will need to be a little bit off [for us to win] but I don’t imagine Vern having an unmotivated team this week. It’s a Scottish team coming to his club. He knows us well and won’t want to be getting beat at home by Edinburgh. They’ll put out a good side and be motivated.”
After losing three out of four of their first matches in the Guinness Pro14 this season, Edinburgh now have three wins under their belt to add a bit of confidence heading into these two weeks, which will see Toulon visit BT Murrayfield the following weekend.
“Our form’s a little bit mixed,” said Cockerill. “We probably could have won at Ulster and didn’t, and that was our own fault, and we’ve played reasonably well but let teams back in it here.
“We’ve got to be ruthless about managing the game and the scoreboard and we’ve not done that well enough. That’s part of our development as a team and we’ve got to start learning that quicker.
“So yeah our form’s been okay, but we’ve not played anyone near the quality of the team we’re playing at the weekend. They’re sitting fourth in the Top 14 since yesterday and that’s a pretty tough league. We’ll go and enjoy ourselves and play with a smile on our faces, give it our best shot.
Cockerill added: “It’s important that we consistently compete in this competition because the way to develop is to play in these competitions and do well.”