AFTER their poor form of recent seasons, Edinburgh have got off to a reassuringly solid start this time round, beating Cardiff away then the Dragons at home. But defence coach Calum MacRae has warned that they cannot afford to be too pleased just because they have won two matches, believing that the virtues that produced those victories masked shortcomings that might have been their undoing.
The improvement on MacRae’s side of the game has been marked: one try conceded in the 20-10 win in Cardiff, and none in the 35-18 defeat of the Dragons, all of whose points came from the boot of Gavin Henson. But there were times in the latter game particularly when Edinburgh looked sluggish, and while they defended well on the whole, they arguably had to defend too much. For the former Scotland Sevens coach, therefore, it has been a mixed start to the PRO14 campaign: encouraging, but with bags of room for improvement.
“It is a positive start to the season: we got the wins we were looking for,” MacRae said. “Is it perfect at the moment? No, certainly not on the defensive side, my part of the game.
“We had identified that the Dragons had their strengths, particularly in the back three, and against our strike defence they made more gains there than I would have liked. We’ll adapt this week and learn from that, make sure that we’re a bit more hardy there.
“One thing I was pleased with was that, despite those indiscretions, the scramble defence was outstanding, and that’s how I gauge the attitude of the boys – how hard they’re willing to work when things are a bit tougher. I thought the scramble at times was fantastic – it needed to be. We were making last-ditch tackles and filling the field quickly after that. I’m pleased, but we’re far from perfect.
“We were slightly inaccurate in certain areas. We do have principles in defence that I look for the guys to stick to. Although we’ve got a system there, you never know exactly what the opposition are going to do and there has to be a level of adaptability. It shows the players are smart enough and we’ve got a good group of players. We’ll preview teams and we’ll know by and large what they’re doing, but ultimately there are parts of the game where guys have to adapt on the run.
“To reiterate, very pleased with the attitude of the boys, making sure that we are scrambling and making it as tough as possible for teams. We want to be a team that’s tough to play against and tough to beat, and there were certainly signs out there last week that we’re becoming that.”
Naturally, such a transformation does not happen overnight, and before the season started head coach Richard Cockerill stressed that Edinburgh should see themselves as what they were in the PRO12 last season: a bottom-four team who will need to work long and hard on improving their game if they are to come close to qualifying for the play-offs. The team has seen so many false dawns in the past, when good one-off performances were immediately followed by dismal displays, so it is no surprise that the coaching staff as a whole have emphasised the need for consistency.
“We certainly wanted to start well against Cardiff in game one, and it was a talking point for game two to make sure that the consistency we look for in training backs up in the games,” MacRae continued. “Richard is very, very clear that we’re not getting ahead of ourselves at all. Every team that we play against we treat with the same level of respect and our mindset should be focused so that we don’t get those sorts of lapses.
“Richard knows exactly what he wants around the work ethic and the principles of play that he is looking to instil. From outside, it’s just a hard-nosed attitude that we’re going to come in and work hard every single day and be very, very consistent in our approach through the week. If we know we’ve locked and loaded the week well and have prepped well then we’re in a good place and can take a lot of confidence from that.
“There’s been a change up at Edinburgh and part of that is having that mentality to come in and work hard every day. Certainly on the attacking side there’s a lot of detail that you’ll cover around certain tactical changes, but when it comes to cultural change you build up a hardy team around a defensive system and how efficiently you can manage the 40 metres from our 10-metre line to the try line. Not giving away any easy scores or easy points. The culture of the group, and how willing we are to work, transfers directly to our defensive performances.”
One disappointing aspect of the Dragons match was the Myreside crowd of just over 3,300 – well short of capacity, and somewhat of a surprise given the positive atmosphere around the club since the arrival of Cockerill and quality signings such as Robbie Fruean. MacRae believes that the numbers will start going up once supporters realise that the team has become more consistent, and that, while expecting a 100 per cent record throughout the campaign is unrealistic, expecting the same high level of commitment from the players is entirely justified.
“All supporters look to buy into or become affiliated with a team they respect. We’re not going to win every single game this year, but one of the things we can expect from our players is that they will go to the wall every single game. I hope we’ll continue to put in performances where we do get results, but hopefully in the wins that we just miss out on, everyone will buy into the fact that it’s a team that will put absolutely everything out there for Edinburgh.”
Meanwhile, Edinburgh have signed front-row forward Cameron Fenton on a one-year deal following a successful trial. The 21-year-old, who can play at prop or hooker, was with London Scottish last season, having previously been at Glasgow. “Cammy has shown during his short spell with the club that he is able to perform at a high level,” Cockerill said. “He’s a talented young Scottish player, so it’s good to have him on board for the rest of the season.”