At times, EDINBURGH has been able to win individual matches against some of Europe’s largest clubs and is a recent semi-finalist in the Champions Cup. What they have missed, however, is the quality of results required to win the title – and probably the strength of the squad.
Richard Cockerill, head coach of the Capital Squad, knows that if they are to have any hope of winning the premier European rugby trophy for the first time, Edinburgh, as well as Glasgow Warriors, would have to go above and beyond.
He also knows that achieving that target this year would be more difficult than ever, with the new format making it almost impossible for teams to maintain their speed as they did under the old framework.
“Are any of the Scottish teams good enough to win this competition?” Cockerill asked him to play La Rochelle at BT Murrayfield after choosing his squad. I think it would be very hard to accomplish that practically.
Have we got the depth of both teams to do that? We have enough good players and we have a chance if everyone is fit and safe – but winning this competition is very difficult.
“But it’s a very tough competition. I would say both professional teams need a fair amount of injury luck to win it, and you also need a bit of luck to win these close games. I think it’s going to be tough for both teams. I would never say never, but realistically it’s going to be tough.”
For the first match of pool play, Cockerill was able to field nearly a full team.
For much of the PRO14 campaign after being without his main players. At the Autumn Nations Cup in Scotland, nine players from Edinburgh’s starting lineup were in action, including full-back Blair Kinghorn, who passed a fitness test with a fractured finger after missing the international against Ireland. Rory Sutherland and Simon Berghan, two other mainstays, are able to come off the bench and play their part in what will be an uphill battle.
“It’s always good to have your best guys available,” the coach said. “For the Test players, it was a little difficult because they only arrived on Sunday afternoon from Ireland and were back in action at eight o’clock on Monday morning.
“Both of them were really sweet, and they just wanted to be back. With Europe, it’s a huge time for us, twice with Glasgow, then Zebre, and two weeks later we’re going to Twickenham in England. So for everyone involved, it’s going to be a huge effort.
“It’s probably the biggest tournament in the world, it’s the best of the best, and we’re sitting at one of the best tables again. We’re not here to just make the numbers. We want to compete and get as far as we can. We’ll find out tomorrow night how realistic that will be. I think we’re a good enough team to beat this team.”
According to organizers, the latest tournament format is only being implemented this season, and even at this early stage, there are several prayers that they hold their promise. There will be 24 teams this time, instead of the normal five pools of four clubs each, with six rounds of matches to decide the quarterfinalists. These teams will be split into two pools of 12, with the top four teams from each pool progressing after only four rounds of play to the quarterfinals.
In other words, there are two wide tables, but tables where only two others have been played by each team. In the case of Edinburgh, La Rochelle and Selling are the ones they’re facing next weekend. Sale themselves, as well as Edinburgh, play Toulon at home and away, while La Rochelle face Bath twice in addition to their matches against Cockerill’s side.
It’s almost impossible to guess how many points a club would need to make the last eight with such a complex constellation, but Cockerill has come up with a solution he feels is workable, at least for his players.
“You just have to win,” he said. You probably have to win all four games to guarantee advancement.
“That makes it interesting and exciting. After the first round, we’ll see how it all settles down.’