Du Preez vows Edinburgh revenge against London Irish

Edinburgh back-row player Cornell Du Preez. Picture: SNS Group
Edinburgh back-row player Cornell Du Preez. Picture: SNS Group
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Cornell du Preez strikes you as a young man not averse to a bit of hard graft and a little less fond of those two Rs oft-used by modern-day coaches these days – rest and rotation.

The 24-year-old has featured in all of Edinburgh’s Guinness Pro12 and European Challenge Cup matches this season and, while coach Alan Solomons has looked to manage his squad through a punishing schedule, he has had no qualms about turning to his back-row workhorse time and time again.

Edinburgh head coach Alan Solomons. Picture: SNS Group

Edinburgh head coach Alan Solomons. Picture: SNS Group

After missing a large chunk of last season with a broken ankle, Port Elizabeth-born Du Preez, who qualifies for Scotland on the three-year residency rule next October, is relishing a prolonged run of action.

“It is better to just keep on playing and getting momentum going rather than not playing,” said the former Southern Kings player yesterday as he looked ahead to Friday’s vital Challenge Cup pool match against London Irish at BT Murrayfield.

“I came back and played around five games at the end of last season. I have been lucky during my career and that was my first big injury.

“I am getting good rest during the week and not involved in too many contact sessions. We had a big group of loose forwards at the beginning of the season but, with Dents [David Denton] leaving [to join Bath] and Nasi [Manu] being injured, these are crucial parts of the back row. I just have to bite the bullet.”

I just think we were not at the races, we were not up for the game as we were against Ulster the previous week

Cornell du Preez

It was rockets rather than bullets flying in the Edinburgh players’ direction following their limp six-tries-to-nil 38-6 surrender at London Irish last Saturday.

Solomons, pictured, fielded a young, experimental side at the Madejski Stadium but was still left fuming by a performance which brutally exposed a lack of strength in depth the South African coach had hoped was beginning to take shape.

Du Preez admits it was a chastening day at the office and said: “It was a combination of things, a lack of experience – there were a lot of new guys, we had something like 11 changes going into the game.

“I just think we were not at the races, we were not up for the game as we were against Ulster the previous week.

“We definitely want to put that right this week, it is a massive game, a massive opportunity. It is a big focus this week.

“We had a big talk at half-time [when Edinburgh trailed 26-6], which was pretty gruesome to be honest.

“It just made us realise again how fortunate we are to have this opportunity and we have to make the best of every opportunity we get and should not take anything for granted
this week – we have to put it right.”

Du Preez returned from his injury last season to play in both the semi-final and final of Europe’s second-tier competition last season, with his incredible tap-tackle on Gloucester flier Jonny May one of the highlights of the 
showpiece at Twickenham Stoop.

He is under no illusions that, if Edinburgh are to make the knock-out stage this season, Friday’s return encounter with the Exiles is crucial. A win for the Pool 5 leaders, combined with the same for second-placed Grenoble at home to makeweights Agen, would leave the Scots cut adrift in third place.

“It is definitely a must-win if we are go to forward and get qualification into Europe,” said Du Preez.

When asked what area of their game needs most improvement on Friday, he didn’t hesitate in pinpointing an aspect of Edinburgh’s play which has been strong this season, but fell apart alarmingly at the weekend.

“Our defence mainly,” he said.

“They scored tries that were easy to defend and we just fell off them and they found a gap to come through.

“We have averaged one try a game against us all season so to have four scored in one half is unheard off, a bit of a shock, almost as though we did not know what was going on.

“We will work on that and see what went wrong. It is just a case of being switched on, that was what was wrong at the weekend, not being switched on.”

Of course, if their European campaign is to be kept alive, Edinburgh will have to inflict some damage on the Aviva Premiership side and tries have not exactly been flowing this season. But Du Preez is confident they will come.

“Our defence, though obviously not last week, and our set-piece has been the strongest thing for us,” he said.

“But we are starting to evolve our attack as well, though it is a long process.

“When Alan got here we started to get our set-piece and our defence right because those are the big pillars in rugby to get right.

“With Duncan Hodge coming in, our attack is actually evolving a lot after he came back from the World Cup.”

When assessing Edinburgh’s season so far, Du Preez hints at frustration they are not higher in the Pro12 table but is sure that progress can be made going into the 1872 Cup double header with Glasgow and into the new year.

He said: “We started really well but we went off the pace a bit in the two away games [at Zebre and Connacht] and the home one against Munster as well when we thought we should have got a win.

“It is just fine margins, little things that cost us the games – a little bit of finishing at the end.

“We are not far off we just need to get that little click going and then we will be reasonable sailing from there.

“Our focus is on this [London Irish] but [the 1827 Cup] is always in the back of your head as they will be big games at the end of the year.

“So we will finish this game first and then put our focus on Glasgow.”