Richard Cockerill’s harsh words keep Edinburgh afloat

Damien Hoyland, left, and Darcy Graham team-up to bring down Scarlets' centre Jonathan Davies. Picture: Ben Evans/Huw Evans/REX/Shutterstock
Damien Hoyland, left, and Darcy Graham team-up to bring down Scarlets' centre Jonathan Davies. Picture: Ben Evans/Huw Evans/REX/Shutterstock
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Call it the Cockerill factor if you like – take a team that is seriously underperforming, and put it right. Over the course of the last 18 months, Richard Cockerill’s influence has been obvious in everything Edinburgh have done but over the weekend it took him only a half-time team talk to work his magic.

“It was not too fiery and it was to be expected,” reported Hamish Watson. “There were a few stern words, probably needed to be honest, because we did not really get off the bus in that first half. It was harsh but fair.

“The first half was pretty poor but we reacted well and put it right in the second half. We controlled the game better after the break. We did not get much ball in the first half and looked pretty frantic on it. The second half we controlled things a lot better.”

For a while it looked as though the coach had blundered when he opted not to freshen up his side from the loss to Munster in the Heineken Champions Cup and instead go with all the fit players from that match.

For 40 minutes, they looked jaded, out of sorts and, at times, uninterested in showing what they could do. When they did spring to life, however, the players more then vindicated their selection, none more so than Watson, who launched the fightback breaking off the back of a driving maul and finding Matt Scott, the centre, cutting a line clean through the home defence.

That was the spark for a supreme nine minutes as Jaco van der Walt, who had put Edinburgh on the scoreboard with a penalty early in the second half, took control, the highlight being a 60 metre run in for the go-ahead try after intercepting a pass from Leigh Halfpenny to add to two conversions and his second penalty.

“I was worried at one point, I didn’t think he was going to make it, he kind of got caught in the quicksand,” Watson joked. “He read the play really well. It took us off the hook and gave us great momentum.

“Once we do get in front with 20 minutes to go we are very hard to beat. All the players know that and when Jaco’s try went in, we played our game and made it hard for them to get back.”

The result intensifies the race at the top of Conference B of the Guinness Pro14. Leinster have already won it but now there are three teams within three points of each other in the battle for two play-off places and the Champions Cup spots that go with them.

Whoever finishes fourth goes into a one-off game for the final European spot but, despite this loss, the Scarlets are still in the hunt for that with two easy games to come and a potential ten points within their grasp.

“The play-off spots are important but it is more about the Champions Cup and getting back into Europe,” Watson, pictured, claimed. “If we get there, then we will start to worry about the play-offs.

“After such a great performance in the Champions Cup this year and the way the league went last year, if we were to go back into the Challenge Cup, it would be really disappointing.

“The competition is really tough. Scarlets are still in it, Treviso drew at Leinster, Ulster are pushing for it. There are only so many spots and everyone wants to be in that top European spot so it will mean a lot to the players to get back into it.”

It all piles the pressure on ahead of the match against Ulster on Friday, as Watson acknowledged. “It is a huge game, pretty much a semi-final for those play-off spots,” he said. “They will need a win after their game against Glasgow and so do we.

“We still have a pretty good home record. The last two games there [Murrayfield] have not been great but still, we have lost only to Cardiff and Munster. We go into every home game expecting to win.”

If they win, they overtake Ulster though they still have to be wary of Treviso who came from behind to snatch a draw at Leinster with the final play and stay ahead of them, if only by a point. They have a home tie against Munster next week but finish with a comfortable-looking game against Zebre, while Edinburgh are in Glasgow.