Edinburgh’s front line players will get some rest after their magnificent month of wins, but Richard Cockerill believes keeping his best players playing will benefit both the club and Scotland in 2019.
Skipper Stuart McInally, scorer of the key try in Edinburgh’s 16-8 1872 Cup victory at Scotstoun on Saturday – only their second win in Glasgow in 15 years – will be rested next week against the Southern Kings but the head coach will play his big names as often as he’s allowed to.
“(McInally) is awesome,” said Cockerill. “He’s been our best player, best trainer, great man for the team, great skipper. Whether he’s playing for us or Scotland, his effort and attitude are exactly the same.
“In autumn he had a week off before (the test series). He’ll have a week off this week. We’ll manage his workload. But he’s a 27-year-old man, he’s at the prime of his life.
“If they’re conditioned properly and looked after, they can do that. Stuart wants to play for Scotland and go to a World Cup in his prime. Hopefully he’ll be able to do that, but when you get to the World Cup you have to back up game after game after game, and win them.
“That’s how it is. Hopefully, we’re instilling that mentality into this squad, and that benefits everyone.”
Cockerill barely changed his side over the four wins in December – beating Newcastle home and away in the Heineken Cup and then Glasgow home and away in the 1872 Cup – partly out of necessity with injuries and lack of depth but he won’t be afraid to make changes should they be warranted.
“If our guys don’t front up they won’t play, simple as that,” he said. If they don’t want to do it we’ll find someone else who does – it ain’t complicated and it won’t change.
“Stuart McInally only wants to play for Edinburgh. He was born in the city, he’s the captain of the club and he wants to play for Edinburgh.
“We are getting a group of guys now who are getting that emotional attachment with their team-mates and the club. The South African boys look like they’re enjoying themselves. They’re good players, good men and we have a good vibe about the team.”
And while Edinburgh have enjoyed the last four weeks, they know that there is a long way to go for the season as a whole.
“The season is alive for us, and that’s key,” he said. “There are four teams below Leinster (in their PRO14 conference) who can all qualify and they’re good teams with good players.
“We needed these wins. This is the first time we’ve won away in the league this season but we just have to back it up. I want to be in Europe next year and we have to qualify for that. We have a lot to do. We want to be in the PRO14 playoffs again.
“We still have a lot to prove and we can still fall flat on our backsides. We just have to keep our feet in the ground.
“But I want to celebrate good performances because if we were crap I would tell you we were crap and I’d criticise the players. The boys were good tonight and they should take all the credit.”
It was news to McInally that he was getting next week off, but the Scotland hooker was most pleased with the growing confidence of the side to string four syccessive wins against quality opposition.
“We’re really chuffed,” he said. “We spoke at the start of the block of four that it was a really big four games for us and we’ve managed to win them all.
“We’re in a good place at the moment and it’s given us a chance to make sure to do well in our conference and do well in our pool in Europe, so we just need to make sure that we continue this form and get something out of it.
“I’m immensely proud to lead this team and proud of the last four weeks, because we spoke about what we wanted to get out of it and especially here at Scotstoun, because you still find there’s the odd person who thinks last week was a fluke and questions whether Edinburgh can back it up.
“We just ignore all that and come in and work hard.”