Edinburgh don’t fear Munster or anyone at all left in the Heineken Champions’ Cup, but the euphoria goes on hold for now as Richard Cockerill faces an equally tough challenge.
This week in South Africa against the Southern Kings could be a gentle introduction to a tough spell for the capital side during the Six Nations window, where their success is likely to be reflected with a radically reduced player choice as so many have graduated to the Scotland team.
It would be no surprise to see all five Scottish qualified starters in the pack that defeated Montpellier to win a home quarter-final on Friday – Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist and Jamie Ritchie -in Gregor Townsend’s team to play Italy a week on Saturday – indeed, it may be that replacements Allan Dell and Dave Cherry will also be in the Scotland 23.
But for a brief interlude with the home game against the Kings, Cockerill has stuck to the same players right through the team’s seven match winning streak. He’s not going to have anywhere near that luxury for the next two months, so it’ll be a significant coaching challenge.
“I’ve no idea if we’re on schedule because I had no idea where I’d be at this point,” he said as the team departed to South Africa. “We’ve got a lot of guys who won’t be with us and we’ve got to play next Saturday against Kings. That’s now our concentration.
“Whether you’re with a Leicester or Toulon or Edinburgh it’s the day-to-day grind, working hard. I don’t know where we’ll end up. There’s no magic formula.
“So long as you have good lads that want to work hard, good coaching staff and they deserve the credit for the win because that was a bloody good performance against a good side.”
The victory over Montpellier and the home quarter-final secured – Munster were confirmed as the visitors when they edged Exeter 9-7 on Saturday night – allowed Cockerill some respite with “a nice glass of red” on the flight to Port Elizabeth, and also some reflection.
“It is a big step forward for us a club,” he said. “We are still developing, trying to catch the big boys. It was a big win for us away in Toulon and then to come home and beat that side that Montpellier picked is very pleasing.
“It is an achievement for us. Europe is bloody tough. To qualify for a home quarter final is an achievement for any team and a real statement for us. Munster will come and we are going to give it a bash and try and win. Why can’t we?
“75 per cent of teams when their quarter-finals when they’re at home. We got a great crowd on Friday, hopefully we’ll get a bigger one, 30-40-50,000 people here for a quarter-final, why not?
“We’ve got a team worth watching. When I came here why would you come and watch because we were pretty crap. Now we’re not. We’ve shown we’re a bloody good side. Come and support us, the boys deserve it.”
Meanwhile Dave Rennie feels that his Glasgow Warriors side could have the measure of Saracens when they return to Allianz Park for a third time in two years in their quarter-final tie.
Freed from qualification concerns after Edinburgh’s victory, Glasgow gave the English champions the runaround in the first 30 minutes but the half-time loss of Jonny Gray and skipper Ryan Wilson early in the second half badly exposed a squad already badly depleted with Callum Gibbins and Matt Fagerson also out, on top of long-term absentees Zander Fagerson, Fraser Brown and George Turner.
Saracens, meanwhile, were able to restock with veteran England scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth and Wallaby giant Will Skelton just as the Warriors were wilting, and eventually they succumbed 38-19.
A fourth try to add to those by Tommy Seymour, Ali Price and Wilson would have had Glasgow going to meet Finn Russell’s Racing in the quarter-final, but instead it’s against the formidable twice champions again.
“We know we’ll be better next time and we’ll need to be,” said Rennie, who barring more injuries to his Scotland contingent in the 6 Nations, should have just about a full-strength squad to pick from for the quarter-final in late March.
“We’re going to have to defend and tackle better as individuals and be a bit more clinical – turn some of that second-half pressure into points.”
The Warriors were turned over three times in the Saracens’ half at the breakdown, and it was notable that when Gray was forced off with a recurrence of a recent shoulder problem the English and Lions’ lock Maro Itoje had a massive influence on the game in the second half.
“We gave them a lot of ball to hurt us,” continued Rennie. “At various times they looked pretty shattered but the only way you can run them around is by maintaining ball and pressure.
“I thought maybe we kicked a little bit too much ball away aimlessly in that last part of the game. But we’ll give it plenty in the quarter-finals.”