HEAD coach Richard Cockerill may have declined to label Friday’s match against Connacht as a must-win for his team, but there is little doubt that one way or the other it will throw a sharper focus on Edinburgh’s beginning to the season. Two narrow defeats and two losing bonus points have not been the start anyone wanted, but nor were they unmitigated failures. A third loss in a row, however – and with a visit to Leinster looming up a week later – could deal a real blow to the sense of optimism around the squad.
On the other hand, a victory over Connacht, especially with a try bonus, will lift them up the Conference B table and lift their spirits too. That trip to Dublin will be no less tougher just because they have a won a game, of course, but if they get anything at all out of that, they can look forward to a less intimidating run of fixtures – home games against Benetton and the Cheetahs and then an away match against Zebre.
Jamie Ritchie, for one, is confident that Edinburgh can break their duck at Murrayfield, and is in no doubt that the team is in a better place now than a year ago – something he believes is reflected in the greater respect shown to them by opponents. “We don’t want to lose any games, and I think if we perform to our potential we should win this game,” said the back-row forward, who made his 50th appearance for Edinburgh in the loss to Ulster last week. “That’s the kind of onus Cockers has put on us – to put our best game out there every week, and should it be enough then it will be enough.
“I think that’s how we always look at it – we look more inward, as we have done with the losses, than we do outwards. So we should improve ourselves and hopefully that will get us the result.
“Obviously Swansea is a hard place to go. Ravenhill is an extremely hard place to go – they’ve only lost two games there in the last two years. It’s a tough place to go and win. By all means we probably should have won on Friday night. We’ve only got ourselves to blame for that.
“Last year we won two games at the start of the season, but were they are as hard? Did teams respect us as much? Probably not. So I don’t think you can look too much into that. It’s the start of the season: I think we’ve got a long way to go before we can start making judgements.
“We built up a bit of a reputation last year for being a very hard team to beat, and got a bit of a hard edge around us which I think we possibly lacked in the past. When I first started we were quite happy with being a hard team to beat but being on the wrong end of a result, as long as we played well. Obviously no-one likes to lose, regardless of who your coach is, but I think we’ve built up a bit of a reputation and gained some respect. Now we’ve got to deal with it. The club’s in a really good place, I think. Happy to be pushing on and I think this is a big year for us.”
Ritchie played the whole game against Ulster last week, taking over in the back row from Hamish Watson, whose partner has just given birth to their first child. As a father of two himself, Ritchie has been asked for child-rearing tips to Watson, but believes there is no textbook way to raise a family. “I think it’s the first time he’s ever asked me for advice!,” the 22-year-old said. “Huge congratulations to Hamish on his little girl. He’ll be a very good father and I don’t know how much advice I can offer. The best bit of advice I ever got was just try and work it out for yourself.”
If Ritchie’s own experience is anything to go by, we can expect Watson to be back playing sooner rather than later. “I think I got about two hours’ paternity leave,” her added. “My first start for Edinburgh was the same day that my son was born, so it’s kind of run alongside me playing more for Edinburgh and gaining that experience, so hopefully I’ve matured on the field and off the field at the same time.
“It’s a busy household for us. I mean, it’s a great thing to have someone who’s always happy to see me when I go home. No matter how rubbish or hard a day you’ve had when you’re here, it’s always great to go home and get a cuddle off someone. Usually not my wife – she’s saying ‘Why are you so late?’.”