Coach Richard Cockerill will fly out to Bordeaux with his Edinburgh players tomorrow in the hope of taking another big French scalp on Saturday afternoon but seems to be adopting a “suck it and see” approach to this meeting with the Top 14 pacesetters.
Cockerill is always driven by a burning desire to win but is adopting a philosophical attitude at the end of a successful period which has seen his side soar to the top of Guinness Pro14 Conference B.
However, the always tricky Six Nations period without a host of international players is just around the corner after the match against Union Bordeaux-Begles, to give them their full name, who currently edge Edinburgh 17 points to 16 in Challenge Cup Pool 3.
“I think it’s must-win if you want to finish top,” said Cockerill. “Five points from these two games [with home match against Agen to follow] will qualify us for a quarter-final somewhere.”
Of course, topping the pool would lead to another home European quarter-final but Cockerill was sanguine about that. He added: “We’ve played three [European] quarter-finals at home [recently] and lost them all. I think it’s probably time to go away.”
Edinburgh lost at BT Murrayfield in the Challenge Cup to La Rochelle under the interim charge of Duncan Hodge and again under Cockerill to Cardiff Blues. Last season they went out of the elite Heineken Champions Cup to Munster.
Cockerill joked: “We’ll go and have some nice wine and cheese with the inconvenience of a game of rugby in the middle of it.
“You’ve just got to pick your fights carefully. There will be changes to the team and there will be guys in this group who get opportunities who wouldn’t potentially necessarily be your first picks. But when they’ve had it before they’ve taken it and they’ve got to stand up and do that this weekend.
“Notwithstanding, we’ll still pick a very strong team and I expect us to perform, be good and go there to compete and get as many points as we can.”
Cockerill’s approach to the second-tier European competition appears to be to do as well as possible in it but not lose focus on the bigger picture, which is a desire to go as far as possible in the Pro14 and get back to the top table in Europe.
He rejects the notion that the Challenge Cup is low priority, though.
“We’re top of our [Pro14] conference after ten rounds, which means sod all doesn’t it?” he said, following back-to-back home wins over Glasgow and Southern Kings.
“I think we’ll just try to go as far in both as we can. I think it’s very dangerous to say we’ll prioritise one over another because you could easily fall on your backside in both.
“We’ve rotated the squad more this year and I’m learning more about the players all the time. I’ll pick what is the best team for us, for here and now but also the bigger picture. I want us to be quarter-finals in the Challenge Cup but Bordeaux have been the form team in France, a really hard competition to play in and they’ve been consistent. They’ve played 13, won ten, lost two and drawn one. It’s a pretty impressive record and they have some pretty good players.
“So, my job is to manage my team, go there and get as many points as we can and give some guys to play in a really big game.”
Bordeaux, who drew 16-16 at BT Murrayfield in November, are a rising force of French rugby, driven by star stand-off Matthieu Jalibert and skipper Jefferson Poirot under the presidency of textile millionaire Laurent Marti and head coach Christophe Urios.
Saturday’s game is at Stade Chaban-Delmas, which sports anoraks will know was the site of the national football team’s last point in a major tournament – the 1-1 draw with Norway at France 98. Not that proud Englishman Cockerill will care much for that.
Prior to that draw in Edinburgh, he locked horns with Bordeaux during his six-month stint in charge at Toulon before he moved to Edinburgh in 2017.
“They were a different team then than they are today. Christophe Urios is a very good coach, they look very well-organised, their recruitment has been smart. Whoever they pick they play with similar bodies in those positions.”