When Richard Cockerill was appointed head coach of Edinburgh, there were fears that a man so closely associated with Leicester’s old forwards-based approach would limit opportunities for the backs to express themselves. Thankfully, those fears have proved ungrounded, and the team is playing a far more attractive brand of rugby than they have done for several years.
Granted, Edinburgh drew a blank in their last match against Glasgow, and when they won against the same opponents the week before it was largely a close-quarters combat.
But in the three games before that they scored a total of 27 tries and 176 points, and although those scores came against some of the weaker sides they will meet this season, in general they have played a pleasingly expansive and adventurous style since Cockerill took over.
Weather permitting, we should expect more of the same on Friday, when they meet the Southern Kings in the Guinness Pro14 at Myreside. And winger Damien Hoyland, for one, is looking forward to another chance to display the new-found confidence that the coach has helped instil in the back division.
“There’s a lot more freedom than maybe we expected,” the 23-year-old said. “We’re basically told we can play from anywhere and it’s great to have that freedom.
“We are confident: it doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, we know we’ve got players in that backline who will carve up and get the ball away in any given space. It’s good we’ve got the freedom to do that, and the more opportunity we have to do that the more confident we’ll get and the better it will get.
“It’s all about decision-making – that’s the main thing Cockers wants us to focus on. He’s happy for us to have a go from our 22 if it’s on. As long as it’s the right decision, he’ll be very happy and will keep pushing it forward.
“If it’s the wrong decision, you have to be able to flush it quickly and get on with it. It is something we’ve definitely got better at. It has been good the last few weeks but lacked a little in execution, which is fine: it’s something we can work on as long as the decision-making process is right.
“Look at the line breaks we made last week: we created so many opportunities but ended up giving the ball away too easily. That’s frustrating looking back, so it’s something we’re going to try and cut out this week.”
The Kings should certainly be the ideal opponents against whom to get back on track, having lost all ten of their league matches so far. But if they have a major strength it is out wide, where their wingers have demonstrated their ability to strike swiftly from broken play, which means that Edinburgh will need to maintain some structure to their game against the South Africans rather than simply attacking willy-nilly.
“That’s something we’ve looked at,” Hoyland continued. “We’ve made plans to stop their fast guys getting space, shutting down their opportunities to kick the ball in behind, because when those guys get the ball in hand with a bit of space they’re going to cause a bit of damage. Hopefully the weather is on our side and we can play to the conditions, which they’re not going to be used to.
“The Kings like to play quite a loose, open game, and that will suit us. If I can get my hands on the ball in a game like that I think I can have a good impact. It’s a good opportunity to build confidence and put my foot forward for selection in the coming weeks and months.”