Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill is relishing leading his side in the top tier of European club competition for the first time in four years.
The Englishman was typically forthright, however, at yesterday’s Dublin launch for the Pro14 sides involved in the Heineken Champions Cup which starts next month.
He said: “It’s a very tough pool but that is good for us. The reality is we are not going to win Europe.”
That group also includes French giants Montpellier and Toulon and the resurgent Newcastle Falcons, who will be motivated by the fact May’s finals weekend is at St James’ Park. It is a daunting return to the competition and, when asked why Edinburgh won’t win it, Cockerill’s answer was equally blunt. “Because there are a lot of better teams than us in it… that is the reality of it.
Cockerill had already raised the biggest laugh during the formal launch proceedings at the Aviva Stadium yesterday when asked him how he was enjoying life in Edinburgh.
“Apart from the rubbish weather and the Scottish people it’s great,” he quipped.
A return to a competition in which Cockerill has been involved at the business end with Leicester Tigers as a player and a coach clearly gets his juices flowing and he refuses to see the brutal nature of his side’s draw as a negative.
“It’s a tough pool but that could be good for us,” he added. “For us as a club we have to learn to play at that level and win in Europe and do our best and try to put our best side out to win those games as realistic as that might or might not be and then turn up and do it again.
“Our Scotland lads have to go and play Test matches,” Cockerill pointed out.
“It is a great tournament. If you are good enough you play. That is just how it is. I have played in quarter finals, semi-finals and finals and coached in finals. It is a good tournament and you are testing yourself against the best.
“We will go and learn to do that. The really good sides, the ones I have coached or watched, their players go every week and play at that level and learn to be consistent and learn to play at that level. It’s is bloody hard. As a team and as a Scottish nation we have to do it.”
After losing three out of four league games at the start of this season, Edinburgh are focused on trying to bank Pro14 points before their hard opening fixture away to Montpellier, who are coached by former Scotland boss Vern Cotter.
That is followed by a home clash with Toulon, with whom Cockerill spent six months as coach before joining the capital side last summer.
So, if not European champions, then what is the target for a competition in which Edinburgh enjoyed a surprise run to the semi-finals in 2012?
“The target is to win as many games as we can,” added Cockerill. “The budget of the three teams we are playing far outspend us, so you have to be realistic.
“The ambition for us has to be is to looking strong and looking to win our home games and away from home give it our best shot. We will pick our best side and give it our best shot and go to win. We have to develop and learn from these experiences cos we have not many in the past few years of playing at this level.”
Cockerill is looking forward to testing himself against Cotter. He said: “I know Vern very well and he is very good, upfront and pragmatic and likes his sides to play with discipline and physicality.
“He did a great job at Clermont and Scotland and last year apart from one game [the Top 14 final defeat to Castres] Montpellier was the best team in France by far.”