Edinburgh morale growing with hopes of an end-of season blitz

A big game in the PRO14 tomorrow night; a big game in the Challenge Cup next week. Edinburgh's season had all but fizzled out by now in recent years, but this time it is very much alive, with hopes rising of a place in the play-offs as well as the prospect of extending a cup run.

Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill, training with his squad at Oriam yesterday, will have most of his Scotland players back this week. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS/SRU.
Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill, training with his squad at Oriam yesterday, will have most of his Scotland players back this week. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS/SRU.

In fact, as things stand, every remaining game is a big one: Connacht in Galway tomorrow, the European quarter-final against Cardiff at Murrayfield a week on Saturday, and then three home league games against Ulster, Scarlets and Glasgow. There is still time for things to go wrong, of course, but there is a growing sense with this Edinburgh team that they are simply not as prone to mishaps as they were; that they know how to be masters of their own destiny.

If they stay in third place in Conference B (they are currently nine points clear of Ulster, who have a game in hand), Richard Cockerill’s team will be in those end-of-season play-offs as well as booking a place in next season’s Champions Cup. Even if they fall to fourth, they will then play their equivalents in Conference A to decide who gets the last place in European rugby’s premier competition.

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Little wonder then that, as Ben Toolis, pictured, explained yesterday, the squad has a growing sense of self-confidence. “We’ve just shown a bit of belief and it gives us a bit of confidence that we can do it, which we’ve probably been lacking in the last few seasons,” the Scotland lock explained. “And we’ve maybe gone into our shells a bit when we were probably expected to lose those games.

“We just ignore that and realise we’re a good team and go out and do what we do and it’s showing with the results, even if it’s winning by one point against Ulster or being close margins but we still get the wins, still get the four points. That builds confidence.

“The run-in to the end of the season is going to be extremely tough. Each point is going to be crucial, going into the back end of the season, for the PRO14 and going into the finals in Europe.

“We’ve had a lot of good wins recently in a row, so we just want to keep that going – confidence is high, so hopefully we’ll continue that on Friday night. I’m sure we will. The boys have been training well and playing well and we’ve also started to create a lot of good depth in the team, so I think we should be pretty confident going into this game and the back end of the season.”

Cockerill will announce his team to play Connacht today, and will have most of his Scotland international players available to him. “Stuart ­McInally and Hamish Watson won’t play, because it’s sensible to rest them,” the head coach said. “Everybody else is good to go.”

Darcy Graham and Glenn Bryce are about to join up with the Scotland sevens squad for the Commonwealth Games in Australia, but Cockerill was adamant that former members of that squad such as Mark Bennett, Dougie Fife and James Johnstone should stay with Edinburgh as the season nears its climax. “Edinburgh takes preference over the sevens,” the coach continued.

“The sevens is a development tool for the 15s. Mark Bennett is first-choice 13 for us. We have some really important games and our best players will stay with the 15s.”

While Allan Dell played for Hawick last week and should be seen in Edinburgh colours again soon and Ross Ford has returned to full training, there is still uncertainty about another front-row forward, Alasdair Dickinson, who has not played since breaking a foot last season and also undergoing shoulder surgery while rehabbing that injury. “It’s hard to say when he’ll be back,” Cockerill added. “He has to prove to himself that he’s ready to come back and play and be confident.

“The union and the club are supportive, and when he feels comfortable to come back he will.

“Maybe there will be another decision he needs to make further down the line, but we’re not there yet.”