Edinburgh get all their internationals back for tonight’s Heineken Champions’ Cup game against Newcastle but that doesn’t make them favourites even with home advantage, believes Richard Cockerill.
The head coach has brought back seven players otherwise engaged on international duty during November to his pack – six Scots and Fiji’s Bill Mata – while also restoring Blair Kinghorn at full-back against a Falcons side that looks a bit short of full-strength for their short trip north to the Scottish capital.
However Cockerill is wary of any favourites tag and it doesn’t change the bottom line for his team, he points out.
“We’ve had a good record at home and we need to win – if we’ve got any ambition of getting out the group we need to win this weekend, as simple as that,” he said.
“I don’t know if there are any favourites any more. If Newcastle can go to Toulon and win (in the first round of games), only the second team ever to win there in Europe, they’re clearly a dangerous team aren’t they?”
That team that won in Toulon were “a mixed side” but still got the result, he added.
“Clearly they have some injury issues. The Gallagher Premiership is very unforgiving, they have won their last two games and are still bottom of the table.
“Maybe they, if all everyone was fit, could pick a stronger team but the Premiership is very tight because there is no point Newcastle having a great run in Europe and getting relegated. Dean (Richards) has to manage that on both fronts which is very hard.”
For Edinburgh, intergrating so many players back into his team after four weeks in Scotland camp is “a slight concern”, admitted the head coach.
“They have had a week off, we are in Europe and want to test ourselves to see what we can do. By and large that is the best team we can pick,” he continued.
“It is a slight concern integrating them again. Any team I have had who have had lots of guys away in internationals, it takes a little bit of time for them to settle in but we have had a good training week, two really good training days and we have the luxury of knowing most of that forward pack has been playing together for Scotland when they have not been with us.
“It is a good side with experienced players. They have all been rested so I expect them to be full of energy and very motivated.”
Cockerill has a decent record against his old friend and ex-team-mate Dean Richards, now director of rugby at Newcastle, and forwards coach John Wells, who the Edinburgh coach regards as a mentor who started him on his coaching career.
“Dean’s teams are tough, they’re hard to play against and he doesn’t tolerate any slackers,” continued Cockerill. “His team will play to the death as we’ve seen in the last round against Montpellier where they won it in the 88th minute, and again at the weekend against Northampton they won it in the 86th minute.
“He doesn’t take fools lightly and every team he’s coached has been very hard to break down and very disciplined and very tough.
“I’ve a pretty good record against him from my time at Leicester and the twice we’ve played them here in pre-season we’ve beaten them as well, but obviously this is a different game.
“They’ve got Dave Walder, John Wells and Dean who are all very, very experienced coaches and we expect a tough battle.”
Edinburgh team: Blair Kinghorn; Darcy Graham, James Johnstone, Chris Dean, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos; Pierre Schoemann, Stuart McInally (capt), WP Nel; Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist; Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Bill Mata.
Replacements: Dave Cherry, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Callum Hunter-Hill, Luke Hamilton, Nathan Fowles, Simon Hickey, Juan Pablo Socino.