A GLANCE at the PRO14 table could lead you to conclude that this is just like old times for Edinburgh – and not in a good way. But while his team lie second bottom of Conference B after losing their first two games, Richard Cockerill is confident that there is no crisis of confidence in the squad, and that if they do themselves justice tonight they will get the better of Connacht.
“I expect us to go and perform and win, as simple as that,” the head coach said after naming his team for their first home fixture of the season. “Of course it’s an important game. We play how we can play, we play as well as we can, we’ll get the right result. We need to start winning pretty soon, don’t we, and that needs to be tomorrow night.
“We’re two games into a 21-game season. It was always going to be a relatively tough start. I’m disappointed we didn’t get at least one win from those first two games, but there’s things that we can do a lot better and there’s things that were out of our control around some of the officiating.
“We have to make sure we’re better. There’s no panic here: we have to keep improving. We’re a side that needs to keep developing.
“To go to Ulster and play how we played and do what we did has to give us some confidence. We have to learn to be a team that gets in front of teams and then finishes it off. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
After seeing his players surrender a sizeable lead then lose 30-29 against Ulster, Cockerill concentrated in his post-match comments on their failings. There was a slight difference of emphasis in his remarks yesterday after announcing his side to play Connacht, as he highlighted what he saw as mistakes by the referee and the Television Match Official, but he insisted all the same that he would continue to demand that his players take full responsibility for winning or losing.
“They’re a good team, they’re a good squad playing at home, so it was always going to be difficult, but we put ourselves in a position to win the game,” he continued. “If the game’s refereed properly, ie the first try that was crossing, that was allowed – it is actually crossing and it’s illegal and they’ve come back and said that shouldn’t have been a try, the game might be different.
“So we all have our responsibilities. We’re doing some good things and we need to make sure that we do that again on Friday. This side isn’t used to being 17 points up at Ravenhill with half an hour to go, so we’ve got to learn to be in charge of games and then to make sure we keep playing to make sure we win those games.
“So, there’s part of it we need to learn and be better at, but that’s part of development. You can’t suddenly expect a team to go from one thing to another in a very short period of time. We’re still developing our game and we’re still working hard to get better. Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen overnight and we just need to make sure that we keep working hard at our game.
“I’m not happy that we didn’t catch the first kick-off; I’m not happy that we got a marginal call in the last tackle to lose us the game; I’m not happy we concede three tries; I’m not happy with the referee getting decisions wrong that he should get right and the TMO, but that’s just how it is. We’re doing some very good things and playing some really good rugby and we’re developing and getting better as a team, so that’s part of the process.”
Changes for Connacht test
Hamish Watson is back at openside after missing last week’s game because of the birth of his first child, while Luke Hamilton moves to No 8 instead of the injured Bill Mata and Jamie Ritchie shifts to blindside. The two other changes to the starting line-up see Duhan van der Merwe return from injury on the wing and James Johnstone come in at outside centre. Van der Merwe takes the place of Tom Brown, who was injured in Belfast last week, while Johnstone is in the No 13 jersey instead of Mark Bennett, who is now confirmed to have ruptured his hamstring in that game against Ulster. He will undergo surgery next week and is still expected to be out of action for three or four months.
The forward replacements look strong enough, with an all-international front row as well as Fraser McKenzie and Magnus Bradbury, but there is a concerning shortage of cover when it comes to outside backs. Outside centre Chris Dean is fit but out of favour, so if Johnstone does not last the 80 minutes it is probable that Juan Pablo Socino will come off the bench and go to 12, with Matt Scott moving to 13. Dean also filled in on the wing in the pre-season outing against Bath, and in his absence it looks like scrum-half Sean Kennedy will have to cover out wide.
Meanwhile, Connacht welcome Bundee Aki back on to the bench, while scrum-half Kieran Marmion starts as one of four changes to the team that beat Zebre last week. Ultan Dillane, Conan O’Donnell and Niyi Adeolokun are the other three to make their return.
Edinburgh (v Connacht at BT Murrayfield, tonight, Friday, kick-off 7.35pm, live on Premier Sports): B Kinghorn, D Fife, J Johnstone, M Scott, D van der Merwe, S Hickey, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, S McInally, W Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, H Watson, L Hamilton. Substitutes: R Ford, A Dell, S Berghan, F McKenzie, M Bradbury, S Kennedy, J van der Walt, J Socino.
Connacht: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, E Griffin, K Godwin, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; C O’Donnell, D Heffernan, F Bealham, G Thornbury, U Dillane, S O’Brien, J Butler, P Boyle. Substitutes: S Delahunt, P McCabe, D Robertson-McCoy, J Cannon, C Fainga’a, C Blade, C Ronaldson, B Aki.
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