An anxious couple of days for Richard Cockerill should end this evening when he learns which of his Scotland players will be released to play against Zebre in Friday’s Pro14 match.
With 17 players absent on national squad duty and others injured, it was a threadbare Edinburgh squad that trained at Murrayfield yesterday, and the head coach knows that areas of this week’s team may bear no more than a passing resemblance to the one which performed heroics in the Champions Cup win against Toulon at the weekend.
One bright sign is the return from a four-match ban of experienced prop Pierre Schoeman, but other places in the pack for the game in Parma will have to go to players with little or no experience at this level.
“We’ve 17 away at the moment,” Cockerill said. “We could do with some [coming back], because this morning we trained and we’ve got no second rows. Not one senior back-rower trained, because Vili Mata has got some bumps and bruises and everybody else is either injured or playing for Scotland.
“It’s a World Cup year. It’s an inflated [Scotland] squad, isn’t it?: 40-odd players in the squad to train. It makes it difficult, but it is what it is and there’s nothing you can do.
“All our tightheads are there, two hookers, looseheads, all our locks, all our back-rowers. You’d like to build on momentum. Circumstance to an extent has gone against us – if you have [the injured Fraser] Mackenzie and [Lewis] Carmichael in the squad, you have two very good second rows.”
Another player ruled out by injury is Magnus Bradbury, who was due to have a scan yesterday on the shoulder damage he sustained against Toulon. Cockerill added: “There’s a fear that he’s had a slight dislocation in that shoulder – yet to be confirmed, but it’s likely to be weeks rather than days. Best case it’s a few weeks, worst case a few months. But until we have sight of the scans and a proper opinion, we won’t know.”
Of those forwards who are fit and away with Scotland at present, the coach is most hopeful about Ross Ford, Luke Hamilton, one of the tightheads and Jamie Ritchie. With Glasgow’s Stuart Hogg injured, Cockerill expects his own Blair Kinghorn to be in Townsend’s squad, but the back division could still be bolstered by the return of the in-form Henry Pyrgos and Matt Scott, while South African winger Duhan van der Merwe is available after injury.
Even if most or all of those Scotland players are released, Cockerill will have to rely on new blood such as Mungo Mason, who impressed in the pre-season friendly against Bath and is now a member of the Scotland Sevens squad. Given how well James Johnstone and Darcy Graham have adapted since being called up from sevens, the coach expects Mason and the other newcomers to seize the chance to impress should it come.
“There’s some young guys who will get an opportunity, which is what we have to do – as Darcy has proved in the last three weeks,” added Cockerill. “You get your opportunity, and you have to take it. We’ve just got to work with it – that’s part of the coaching ticket, isn’t it?
“Look, there’s lots of guys that have conversations about ‘When am I going to get my chance?’ Well, guys will now get an opportunity, won’t they? And that’s what the guys train for. Guys like [Callum] Hunter-Hill, he’s been desperate for an opportunity and he’ll get that opportunity this weekend. Who partners him in the second row, we’ll see. By the time we get to Friday we’ll have a decent enough team – it’s just we don’t get any time to prepare. We’ve tried coaching, that’s not always worked, so maybe just turning up and playing will be better for us.”
Cockerill’s old team-mate Dean Richards reportedly put his credit card behind the bar on Sunday after his Newcastle side beat Montpellier in the same Champions Cup pool as Edinburgh, so Cockerill was asked if he had done the same.
“You know how our players behave when they drink,” he replied. “No. I don’t have a credit card. I’m trying to get one off [Edinburgh managing director] Jonny Petrie, but he’s a tight bugger.
“Do Scotsmen have credit cards? They never get them out their wallet.”