Richard Cockerill wants reshuffled team to make drag of a journey worthwhile in Bordeaux

Covid restrictions make for less than ideal travel as coach makes seven changes for Euro quarter-final in France

Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has made seven changes for the Challenge Cup quarter-final in France. Picture: SRU/SNS
Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has made seven changes for the Challenge Cup quarter-final in France. Picture: SRU/SNS

Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has admitted that the second-tier European Challenge Cup lies well below the premier Heineken Champions Cup and Guinness Pro14 in his list of priorities but that doesn’t mean he will expect a committed performance from his team and a real go at winning the tournament.

Despite the questionable prestige of the tournament and awkward timing for obvious reasons, Cockerill expects his men to show professional pride in today’s quarter-final at star-studded French side Bordeaux-Begles and make what will be a torturous journey to and from a country believed to be a few weeks ahead of the UK with a surging Covid-19 spike worth the hassle.

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Speaking just before leaving BT Murrayfield for the chartered flight early yesterday morning, Cockerill explained: “We're straight from Murrayfield at 8am and two buses to the airport so that we can socially distance on the bus.

“We'll be the same on the plane. We get to Bordeaux and it's the same – two buses to the hotel, and then we can't leave the restricted areas, which is our team room and our own bedrooms. Then the same to the ground – two buses, play the game, two buses to the airport, come home, then two buses back to Murrayfield. Bob’s your uncle!”

Injuries have forced Cockerill into changes from the starting XV he fielded against Ulster in the Pro14 semi-final loss a fortnight ago, with Duhan van der Merwe (calf), Nic Groom (calf), WP Nel (groin) and Mark Bennett all out, although all expected to be back soon.

Damien Hoyland comes in on left wing, young Charlie Shiel gets another start at scrum-half, George Turner is in at inside centre to partner James Johnstone, while Simon Berghan replaces Nel at tighthead. Elsewhere, Jamie Ritchie makes his first start since last month’s resumption in a formidable back row with Hamish Watson and Bill Mata and Pierre Schoeman is chosen to start ahead of Rory Sutherland at loosehead for this one.

Cockerill has gone for a six-two split on the bench and said Blair Kinghorn will cover Jaco van der Walt at stand-off. He is expecting a fierce challenge from Bordeaux, who have strength all over from France skipper Jefferson Poirot in the front row out to a backline run by tyro stand-off Matthieu Jalibert. It will be warm too and played in front of a crowd of 1,000, down from the 5,000 who were at Stade Chaban Delmas for last week’s first league game against Brive.

“For us Scotsmen,” said the Englishman with a grin. “It is going to be 25 or 26 degrees so we are going to have to have cold towels every 10 minutes.

“The attrition rate of the game and the way they play with a very big set of forwards, I just thought that having the opportunity to use a lock and two back rowers along with the front rowers was probably my thought process. We take a slight risk at 10, but with what has happened budget wise I don't think Nathan Chamberlain would be a viable option to bring off the bench. I'm not going to make a change unless Jaco is injured. That's the thought and we will see if it is a good one after the game.”

Edinburgh faced the rising force in French rugby, who were well ahead in the Top 14 before the shutdown and cancellation of the league, twice in the pool stages, drawing 16-16 at home before losing 32-17 in Bordeaux.

“If you look at the teams that are left in the competition, Bordeaux would probably see themselves as odds-on favourites to be good enough to win the competition,” said Cockerill. “I think they will take it very seriously. I think they will come with their best team and I think they will be dead set on trying to win the competition.

“Jalibert is a very sharp player if you let him get on the front foot which is quite a lot because their big forward pack can built him the momentum.

“He’s sharp on the break if you give him opportunities. If you start sliding sideways in defence he’ll take the space and go through it very well. He’s a very good goalkicker. A quality player.

“To be fair to Bordeaux and [coach] Christophe Urios they’re a very well-coached side, closer to a UK team rather than a French side, because they’re pragmatic and get out of their own half. They don’t take a huge amount of risk.”

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