Newcastle Falcons will field almost a completely different – and much more formidable – side in the second half of their Heineken Cup doubleheader against Edinburgh, but it’s nothing Richard Cockerill didn’t expect.
“Europe shouldn’t be easy, and it won’t be,” said the Edinburgh head coach, whose team sit top of Pool 5 at the halfway stage. “Newcastle have been strong at home and I expected them to pick as strong aside as they could.
“You don’t want to concede anything when you play at home. There will be a big crowd and if they win they will put themselves above us with two games to go. All four sides still have a chance to get out of this group and have everything to play for.”
Edinburgh’s three bonus points do give them the lead in the table, and in contrast to his hosts Cockerill has made minimal changes to his side for the Sunday trip to Kingston Park. Jamie Ritchie, who has a slight quad strain, is ruled out and Luke Hamilton moves up from the bench, while Allan Dell replaces Pierre Schoeman at loose head with the feeling that the 4G pitch at Newcastle will promote a quicker game.
“When we play as well as we know we can and stay in the games then (we’ve found) we are good enough to compete,” he continued. “The players genuinely believe that they can compete at this level.
“It has been a positive sign for us in Europe, but were only halfway through the pool stages and anything can happen. This is an important game for us to go and perform well and get as many points out of the game as we can.”
John Hardie will start for Newcastle against his former club, and England international Mark Wilson also returns as well as both the Falcon’s formidable wings Sinoti Sinoti and Vereniki Goneva. Veteran Toby Flood is also in at stand-off.
“It’s a good side, especially with the midfield combination, (Johnny) Williams and Chris Harris in the midfield, and Toby Flood. It is their strongest team so we are looking forward to it,” continued Cockerill.
“We’ve got our work cut out and we know that. We haven’t won away from home this season, so the odds are against us. But that’s a great challenge.
“We are probably going to have to win two games minimum to get out of this group. We have three pretty tough games ahead, two of them away from home at tough places. It is still all for us to do but we are optimistic that if we play as well as we can and go with the right attitude there is no reason why we can’t force the results our way.”
Newcastle’s forward power is augmented by the return of key men including a recognised tight-head in Trevor Davison, but Edinburgh have a formidable pack as well, said the coach.
“They are physical but so are we,” he said. “Our tight game, our pick and go game, our driving game is as good as theirs.
“We must play in the right areas of the field at the right time and don’t give away stupid penalties so they can kick to those areas where they can build pressure. They will be saying the same thing in their changing room about us.”
Edinburgh team: Blair Kinghorn; Darcy Graham, James Johnstone, Chris Dean, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos; Allan dell, Stuart McInally (capt), WP Nel; Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist; Luke Hamilton, Hamish Watson, Bill Mata. Replacements: Dave Cherry, Pierre Schoeman, Simon Berghan, Calum Hunter-Hill, Luke Crosbie, Nathan Fowles, Simon Hickey, Juan Pablo Socino.