Cockerill shakes off Edinburgh favourites tag ahead of PRO14 semi-final

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Edinburgh Head Coach Richard Cockerill believes his side are ready for their Guinness PRO14 semi-final, but dismissed they will be favourites to beat Ulster.

The club will take its first steps into the PRO14 last four when they welcome Ulster to BT Murrayfield on Saturday evening, and Cockerill is looking forward to the occasion.

“I’m looking forward to being in a semi-final,” the former Leicester Tigers and Toulon Head Coach said today (Tuesday).

“We’ve earned the right to be here with what we’ve done this season.

“We’ve played in big games in the last couple of years, against Munster in particular in the quarter-final of both the league and in Europe.

“I’d like to think we’d use those experiences to make sure we get on the right side of the result this time.”

Scotland duo set to return

Edinburgh go into their first-ever league semi-final off the back of a poor performance in defeat to arch rivals Glasgow Warriors, but Cockerill was keen to consign that game to history as he prepares for the club’s biggest game since their Heineken Cup semi-final, also against Ulster, in 2012.

He looks set to welcome back at least two of Scotland internationalists for the visit of Dan McFarland’s side, with Ben Toolis and Jamie Ritchie set to bolster the forwards, and international scrum-half Henry Pyrgos also battling to be fit

“We made 10 changes against Glasgow but I think everyone will be aware that wasn’t the real us.

“We’ve got a fully-fit squad to pick from now.

“We’ve got to pick our best players, and Ben Toolis is fit to play. Gilchrist is fit to play. Jamie Ritchie trained today and is available for selection.

“We’re hoping Henry Pyrgos will be fit, and he’ll be important to us if he’s available. There’s a little bit of risk and reward there, but everyone’s pretty much in the same boat, no-one’s played enough minutes.

“There is the odd player – Jamie Ritchie and Ben Toolis for example – who haven’t played a minute at this stage, but needs must in the second row for example. Benny being involved and potentially coming off the bench to help us will be valuable.”

‘We have to play how we can to win the game’

Duhan van der Merwe has been one of the stars of the season, the big South African-born winger topping the league’s charts for metres made, defenders beaten and clean breaks, while he’s also tied fourth on the try scoring list.

And while Cockerill knows the threats of his free-running back three – also likely to feature Darcy Graham after the Hawick man recovered from a knock he picked up late in the defeat to Glasgow – he admits his side will need to strike a fine balance this weekend.

 

“We just have to play how we can to win the game. When teams are evenly matched you need to do the basics well. We have to make sure we don’t lose, our bottle, make sure we don’t blink first, and when opportunities arise we take them and we minimise the opportunist of the opposition.

“We have to perform and we have to get it right. Semi-finals and finals are all about the result.

“You have to get the performance to get the result. Edinburgh have never won a trophy so clearly we haven’t dealt with it particularly well in the past.

“I’m hoping those experiences of the last three seasons will come to fruition on Saturday night.

“It’s about knowing how to play knock-out rugby and not playing an exhibition.

“At the pressure moments we need to deliver. Those tiny moments make the difference and not worry too much about history.

‘I am not sure we can be favourites, surely’

And the former England hooker refuted any suggestion his side are favourites to beat Ulster and set up a final with either Leinster or Munster.

“Ulster have won the completion before, they are in the champions cup quarter-finals against Toulouse and they are the club with all the history of being successful so surely that makes them favourites.

“They are the team that should deliver. They are a team that should expect to beat Edinburgh.  I would think there is more pressure on Ulster to win than us. The only pressure we have is from ourselves internally.

“There is a lot of pressure on ulster to deliver because they are Ulster and they expect success.

A team to be proud of

And Cockerill also gave an insight into what the mood in the Edinburgh camp has been in the early part of the week.

“They are very focused. Everybody wants to play. There are a few grumpy people who are not starting and that makes training a bit livelier than it may well have been before.

“I think we’re ready. The boys want to show how good they are and how much they have improved. We have a lot of Test players who will start for Scotland in the autumn and the six nations and expect those guys to be able to perform and make sure they are ready to play in these games.

“All our guys want to play for Edinburgh. We finally have a club where the club team is more important than the national team in the first instance. If you do well for us you can go and play for the national side because you deserve to.

This is part and parcel of it. We want to try and win the PRO14 because we have the opportunity to do so.

“Whether we are good enough will find out in the next couple of weeks.

“It’s time for us to step up. We genuinely feel that if we get this right we are a good enough side to beat Ulster.”

 

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