THE results have been disappointing, the performances less than perfect, but it is by no means difficult to discern some highly positive aspects of Edinburgh’s early-season outings. The new signings, for example, have provided instant evidence of how useful they can be, and despite the losses to both Ospreys and Ulster, head coach Richard Cockerill appears entirely justified in his belief that he has a better squad than last season.
Loosehead prop Pierre Schoeman is one new recruit who has really caught the eye thanks to his rumbustious forays, but it is the less demonstrative figure of Simon Hickey who promises to be the most important arrival. The New Zealander may not be the kind of stand-off whose extravagant touches can turn the tide in games, but in context that is no bad thing. Edinburgh have game-changing unpredictability in abundance elsewhere in the squad. What they get from Hickey, especially when he is tandem with scrum-half Henry Pyrgos, is a sure-footed dependability.
Last season’s half-backs had their individual virtues, all right: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne was the best scrum-half, Duncan Weir the most adept at game management in the squad, Jaco van der Walt the best all-round option at fly-half. But what Edinburgh lacked, no matter what combination they used at 9 and 10, was the sort of partnership which Pyrgos and Hickey already appear to have forged.
We’re not talking Ali Price and Finn Russell here – Pyrgos and Hickey are not naturally given to the kind of boyish ebullience displayed both on and off the field by last season’s Glasgow pairing. But again, that is no bad thing. Edinburgh have had youthful promise for a while now, yet have lacked a reliable core to the team: they now seem to have it in the new duo, who have quickly found each other to be on the same wavelength.
“I’ve really enjoyed playing with Henry these last couple of weeks,” Hickey said earlier this week. “I think he’s a really good player, and he’s got a cool head on the field, but he’s also gutsy enough to try things – and quite a few of them pay off. Yeah, I’ve enjoyed my first couple of outings with him.
“I’ve really enjoyed my first three months in Edinburgh, and the boys and the club have been really welcoming to me. I feel really settled in, and it’s nice to be into the season and playing some games now. Obviously we haven’t got the results the first couple of games, but we’re not panicking. If we play well the results will take care of themselves. Only two games in: it’s a long season.”
Losing 30-29 to Ulster last Friday was galling, given the substantial lead Edinburgh deservedly held at various points in the game. For Hickey, however, one positive aspect of that match in Belfast was his team’s improvement from the previous week against Ospreys, while further grounds for optimism arise from the fact that there was such a narrow margin of defeat – not only on the scoreboard, but also in the sense that one or two avoidable errors cost Edinburgh the game.
“I think the weekend against Ulster was definitely a big step up for us,” the 24-year-old added. “I think we played pretty well against Ulster. Certainly there are a few things we can improve on game-management-wise, so that when we’ve got a 17-point lead we don’t let it slip. But at the same time I think we’re tracking in the right direction, so if we just keep improving I know we’re not far off.
“We had a really clear game plan and we knew exactly what we were doing. So I think all the boys were clear and we were able to execute that for probably 95 per cent of the match, which was good.
“There were a couple of defensive lapses which just gave them easy tries that were certainly very avoidable. And then, I’d say, 95 percent of the time our kicking-game control was really good, and there was probably just potentially that one where they counter-attacked and scored – where we didn’t quite kick on our terms and they were able to pounce on it. But in general it was pretty good and hopefully we can step up again this week.”
A team can only promise to come good for so long, of course, before frustration begins to have a negative effect, and in that sense, the pressure is on for Friday’s home game against Connacht. But Hickey does not look like the sort to let pressure get to him. The more he and Pyrgos can communicate their calm determination to their colleagues, the sooner Edinburgh will begin to climb up the table.
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