Edinburgh this month are “a snapshot in time” in exceptional circumstances and should only be judged when they have their best team available again in two weeks, believes head coach Richard Cockerill.
The capital side host Ulster in the last of four Guinness PRO14 matches played with half his front line squad ring-fenced by Scotland – including stand-off Jaco van der Walt, who came out of quarantine after his trip to South Africa to get married and went straight into the Scotland squad for the final Autumn Nations Cup game.
Cockerill has piloted his mixture of more experienced fringe players and academy youngsters to two wins out of three so far while depleted, but the 50-10 hammering at Leinster was the defeat and the similarly-resourced Ulster will be missing only six players to the Ireland squad when they come to Murrayfield on Monday.
“You have to be very careful not to take a snapshot in time at this autumn series,” said Cockerill. “It’s not a time to try to fix all the pro teams’ woes because it’s a very unique situation with Covid.
“You can go to the far end and say, ‘it’s not acceptable, it’s not good enough’ and I certainly don’t want to be beaten by 50 points, but you have to take a measured view. In the cold light of day, if we don’t have all our best players, plus some injuries on top of that, our resources just can’t cope with that.
“If we’ve got all our players available, we are good enough to compete with most teams, as we’ve shown. I think any sane individual would look at it and be frustrated; I’m frustrated but understand the problems we are all trying to work through.”
Monday games introduced this season to the league this year have proved hugely problematic as they prevent Gregor Townsend returning players he doesn’t need to their clubs, pointed out Cockerill.
“The Pro14 decided on Mondays and it wasn’t particularly well thought through, was it?” he added. “I completely get where Gregor’s coming from – he needs the players and he needs to prepare properly because they’ll be playing Ireland or England and neither of these teams you’d want to play underprepared.
“Gregor’s not taken this decision so the pro teams will suffer, we’re travelling around Europe playing different teams and if players come back into the Scotland bubble, you put others at risk. The rationale for doing it is very sound.
“If we’re still in the state we’re in now come the Six Nations, I expect him to pick 35 guys and not see them for eight weeks. There’s nothing we can do about that.”
Ulster will be a tough proposition – they won at Murrayfield on the last kick with both teams at full strength in last season’s PRO14 semi-final back in September – but Cockerill is pleased that his side have won two from three in this period so far.
“We need to keep chipping away and getting as many points as we can and we will put as good a side out as we can on Monday and try and win the game.
“It has been tough for us, and it’s the same at Glasgow with Danny, but we just have to keep working hard.
“Scottish rugby is in rude health at test level because of what the clubs have been doing. When we started this project three years ago we were on our backside as a club and now we’re in a strong place with a good environment and guys are playing at the very highest level.
“I take a lot of satisfaction from guys getting picked for test rugby. The next phase is to create a squad with the financial wherewithal and bringing young guys through, so when the internationals are away we’re not using it as an excuse, ultimately, to not perform.”