Pro14: Why Edinburgh don’t deserve to be sent to Siberia

Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill looks dejected after defeat by Glasgow. Picture: SNS
Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill looks dejected after defeat by Glasgow. Picture: SNS
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At the Guinness Pro14 launch in Dublin last year the old cliche about the “difficult second album” was put to Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill and so it has proved as the capital pro-team’s season ends prematurely.

A fifth-placed finish in Conference B following Saturday’s stuffing by Glasgow at Scotstoun may prompt the question “what’s the story?” after a campaign that has contained plenty of glory. Following on from the no-nonsense former England hooker and Leicester coach’s new-broom first season which lifted Edinburgh out of a decade of seemingly unwakeable malaise the past campaign has contained more and stronger hits but, ultimately, not achieved the chart position it perhaps deserves.

“Victims of our own success” is something Cockerill has said a couple of times of late, referring to the improvement he has driven leading to more Edinburgh players in the Scotland squad and unavailable to their club during Test windows which have proved costly.

Victims of past failures before his time you could say too as the SRU have, not unreasonably, backed the winning horse over the past few years and a deeper, better resourced Glasgow squad have managed to cash in during those international periods and now sit proudly atop Conference A with a home semi-final to look forward to in a few weeks’ time.

For Edinburgh it is unwanted holiday time 12 months on from when they narrowly lost away to Munster in the Pro14 quarter-finals but, much more than the inability in the end to reach that stage again, the failure to get back into the elite Heineken Champions Cup next season will be what gnaws away at Cockerill over the summer.

That is the stage where Edinburgh shone this past season, winning five out of six of their pool games and coming so close to avenging Munster in what was a thrilling last-eight clash at BT Murrayfield played in front of over 36,000 at the end of last month.

From flogging French giants Toulon at their Stade Mayol fortress to a potential trip to Siberia in the second-tier Challenge Cup next season will be a bitter pill to swallow.

But swallow it they must, rebuild and look to deliver on the undoubted promise Cockerill has stirred at the club.

At full strength and full tilt there is an argument to made that Edinburgh have one of the best packs in Europe but they foundered at the end of a long voyage with that costly home defeat to Ulster a couple of weeks ago and then at Scotstoun at the weekend.

Fiji Sevens duo Kalione Nasoko and Eroni Sau, former South Africa Under-20 hooker Mike Willemse and Bristol back-row Nick Haining have all been signed up. With Sean Kennedy and Nathan Fowles released, a scrum-half to back up Henry Pyrgos and Charlie Shiel will be high on Cockerill’s shopping list.

As for Glasgow, the season, which for them comes with the welcome added words ‘thus far’, has had its deflating moments but, thanks to those strong showings during November and the Six Nations, and a highly impressive Pro14 run in, still contains the prospect of a glory day for Scottish rugby in the Celtic Park final of 25 May.

Back-to-back defeats by Edinburgh in December and a series of schoolings from English giants Saracens in Europe have been painful blows but Dave Rennie’s men are still standing heading into the penultimate round.

The Kiwi coach has signed a one-year extension, with strong suggestions he is in line for the Australia job after that, but currently will be focusing on how to keep a side who have enjoyed big wins away to Leinster and home to Edinburgh in recent weeks ticking over ahead of a home semi-final against Ulster or Connacht which doesn’t come around until 17 May.

That three-week gap proved a 
killer last season as the Warriors were washed away in the semis at Scotstoun by a Scarlets side who were battle-hardened from a Pro14 quarter and European semi-final in the lead up.

Last season Glasgow had gone off the boil long before then after winning their conference with weeks to spare and, speaking to The Scotsman ahead of Saturday’s win over Edinburgh, Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg insisted that lessons had been learned as he hopes to sign off with the club before his move to Exeter with a dream Celtic Park final.

“We’ll learn from our experience last year. It didn’t work for us so we’ll make sure we’re in a better place,” said Hogg, who was part of Glasgow’s historic Pro12 title win over Munster in Belfast four years ago.

“For me it’s the opportunity to have a final in Glasgow. A football city, but in the nine seasons I’ve been at the club our fanbase has grown and grown. We get sell-outs every home game, which is a long way from where we were when I joined as a youngster.

“For Scottish rugby it would be huge to have a Glasgow team in a final in Scotland. It would be an inspiring moment.”