Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill admits Saturday’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Bordeaux-Begles sums up a “strange” situation which sees rugby attempt to close the book on the interrupted 2019-20 season and embark on a new one next month.
The Englishman insists he will pick a strong team for the match in France and tell his side to unleash the frustration of the recent dispiriting home Guinness Pro14 loss to Ulster.
“I think we should,” said Cockerill. “If we got through this weekend we will have a semi-final away at Bristol [who host Dragons this weekend] you would have thought. Then we start the season.
“Then there’s two weeks of the season then the final so it is all a bit strange. Our season is going to roll from one end to the other.”
The Pro14 still hopes to get going with the new campaign over the first weekend of October but no fixtures have been released.
“I will pick the best team that is available and I think is ready to win the game,” continued Cockerill.
“I don't think we've ever underplayed being in Europe, whether it’s the Challenge Cup or the premier competition. We’ve always wanted to do well in Europe and always wanted to win. I don't think we are a good enough team historically to start picking and choosing competitions. We want to go as far as we can in both.”
Cockerill concedes it will be a tough ask at the rising force of French rugby, who were eight points clear when the Top 14 was scrapped after the Covid-19 outbreak. They played them twice in the pool stage, unlucky to draw 16-16 at home and then well beaten in Bordeaux.
Despite France’s ninth biggest city prominent in a recent surge in coronavirus cases across the country, a crowd of 1,000 is due to attend the game after 5,000 watched them start the new season with a 25-20 home win over Brive at the weekend.
“Bordeaux are a very good team, we have played them twice already this season. If Covid hadn't come along, they probably would have been champions of France because they were the best team by far,” said Cockerill, who had a stint in charge of Toulon before joining Edinburgh in 2017.
“Clearly, we weren't as far down the development curve as we thought. We let ourselves down against Ulster. But what do we do? Do we pack all our kit away and never play again or do we get out on the pitch and train and work hard and try and get better?”
The quarter-final clash gives Edinburgh a chance to break the spell of Cockerill’s knockout jinx during his otherwise excellent tenure revitalising the capital side. Last week Edinburgh full-back Blair Kinghorn accepted the players may benefit from psychological help to banish the lapses recurring under pressure which culminated in a collapse to Ulster from a dominant 12-point lead in the second half and slumping to a last-gas 22-19 defeat.
“It might be some help for me,” said Cockerill with a smile.
“We have that available. We have sports psychologists available for guys who need them and we have used them already this year. Each to their own. I don't have any thoughts either way. If players need that kind of help it is there for them to use and they feel they just have to get on the training field then they can do that.
“I'm open to anything that makes our guys better. Some guys like them, some guys don’t. It’s something we can happily use and do use.”
Cockerill confirmed he was tracking the possibility of signing 30-year-old South African lock Andries Ferreira from the Blue Bulls but accepts any recruitment will be very limited for obvious reasons at present.
The coach said: “We’re a little bit short in the second row with injuries. Fraser McKenzie is out for several months with a dislocated shoulder, and we’ve got some issues with Lewis Carmichael with concussion, and my best guess would be that in a few weeks’ time we’re going to lose two locks to international duty for eight weeks.
“So we’re looking at some options there to give us some cover, and Ferreira is one of those options along with many others.
“At this point it will be short-term to cover for the needs we have and looking after our players. I don’t mind spending money, but the powers that be don’t want to spend any money for obvious reasons. And I get that, but we have to have players to play, don’t we?”
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