Edinburgh’s success in providing so many more players for the Scotland squad in November makes for “a real acid test” for the club coming back together for a brutal December, believes head coach Richard Cockerill.
The capital side face back-to-back Heineken Champions Cup matches against Newcastle Falcons – starting with the home fixture on Friday at BT Murrayfield – and then the first two 1872 Cup games home and away against Glasgow Warriors to follow.
“The lads who have been away with Scotland should be confident, it was a good November,” said the coach. “We haven’t been altogether for six weeks, that’s the hard part for us, although the good part is that the majority of our forward pack have been playing together somewhere else.
“When we’ve got our combinations we are as good as any team and I believe we can compete with any team in Europe on our day if we get it right, but the challenge is to do it consistently.”
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Getting back together and re-assimilating into top-level club rugby would be “the real acid test” for the squad as it would be a new experience for most.
“They’ve had a lot asked of them in the past few weeks by the test team, and rightly so,” he added. “The challenge is now to be professional and motivated enough to come back in seamlessly and play in these big matches for us.
“It’s a challenge we haven’t had before. A year ago we would be resting our internationals (with Challenge Cup games) against Krasny Yar and London Irish’s second team.
“Now we have to back up Test matches with crucial European games, then crucial league games against Glasgow and then the Kings at home, then Europe away at Toulon. That’s a tough schedule.
“Our players have got to learn to play at that level week in, week out because that’s what really good teams have to do every year.”
Cockerill is no doubt that to make it out of the European pool, they have to win against Newcastle on Friday, and probably again at Kingston Park the following week.
“Newcastle at home has to be a game that we target to win – and probably the away game as well. I’m sure they’ll be thinking the same.
“We can win the next two games and move on to 14 points heading into the last two games, you’ll probably need four or five points from there to be second in your group potentially.
“Newcastle are bottom of the Premiership but they are two from two in Europe. They had a good win at the weekend at the death away at Northampton.”
Cockerill also has a chance to lock horns against two of his old friends and mentors, Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards and forwards coach John Wells.
“I played with John at Leicester and he gave me my first job in coaching – so you’ve got him to blame unfortunately,” he joked.
“Dean’s a good man, great to play with and he was and is a very good Director of Rugby, a very astute rugby brain. It’s always good to pit your wits against people who brought you through and mentored you as coaches, certainly John Wells was for myself.
“Right from the start we wanted to play against good teams in the Heineken Champions Cup, we’ve done that with the French teams and Newcastle were a top four side in the Premiership last year.
“They’ve got some very good players and it’ll be another good test for us as a team to see what that level looks like.”