Richard Cockerill has called on his players to face up to the pressures of big-game rugby and secure the win that will take them a vital step closer to the play-offs on Saturday.
Edinburgh have lost their last two games – against Cardiff in the Challenge Cup then against Ulster in the league – and the head coach thinks that at least part of the problem is their inability to deal with the burden of expectation.
He is set to discard several underperforming players for the match at BT Murrayfield against Scarlets, and John Hardie should be fit again after a back strain ruled him out last week, but besides those changes of personnel, Cockerill is convinced that a change in attitude is needed from those who will keep their places.
“We need to get it right,” he said. “We need to be motivated. At some point we have to realise that it’s a professional game and we have to deal [with being] under pressure.
“Some of our guys aren’t used to it. I’m pretty much used to it. We have to win.
“One game is a blip: Cardiff. Twice is not a blip. We have to understand what playing in essentially knockout games looks like.
“The team I picked last week was good enough to win that game, because Phil Burleigh’s a good enough player, Duncan Weir’s a good enough player. But they made errors and we paid for it, whether it’s those two, or some of our forwards not cleaning rucks…
“People make errors. They have their opportunities, and across the board there will be changes, because some guys didn’t take their opportunities.
“We’re still learning. We’re nine months into trying to turn this team around and suddenly everyone expects us to start competing for the league because we’ve had a half-decent season. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve got a position where I’d expect us to be better, and if we’d played anywhere near as well as we can we would have been able to win the game on Friday.”
Edinburgh lie third in Conference B, eight points clear of Ulster, who have three games to play compared to the two left for Cockerill’s team. If Ulster lose to the Ospreys on Friday, Edinburgh will then take the field the following day knowing a win will be enough to confirm their play-off place. As Scarlets have a Champions Cup semi-final the following week, Cockerill expects them to rest some of their key players, but he will not allow his players to dwell on that possibility.
“Whatever team they pick, they’ll be good,” he continued. “They’re champions: they’ve got a strong squad. I’m not worrying too much about what they bring, not because they’re not a good side, but because we have to get our stuff right. It’s a very dangerous thing hoping they’ll bring a second team and hopefully they won’t play very well and hopefully they’ll be a bit s****er than us. I’d rather concentrate on us playing well.”
Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that stand-off Duncan Weir is to join Worcester Warriors on a one-year deal next season after Edinburgh opted to release him. The former Scotland No 10 was due to go on loan to the English club earlier this year but was recalled after Edinburgh suffered injury problems.
Weir played an important role in the run of wins that has taken Edinburgh to the verge of the play-offs for the first time, but Cockerill is convinced that letting him and Welsh stand-off Jason Tovey go is in the longer-term interests of the club. Jaco van der Walt has become the team’s first-choice No 10 since joining late last year, while he will have competition next season from new signing Simon Hickey.
With incoming centre Juan Pablo Socino also able to play at stand-off, Cockerill is sure he has the position covered. “Hickey’s all-round game is very good and he’s just 24. He has a natural touch on the ball; understands the game very well. He will help the team going forward.
“Jaco has done very well. He has come into the side through Super Rugby and it’s a very different game in the northern hemisphere and he has adapted to it very well.
“Jason Baggott is staying, Socino has played a lot at 10, and Blair Kinghorn has played there as well. We have two 10s who are not Scottish, so I like to think barring injury they’ll be with us all of the time.”