‘Underdogs’ Edinburgh look for dream end to incredible season
Edinburgh Rugby head coach Richard Cockerill has urged his team to continue to dream for a “fairytale” win over Munster this weekend. A victory would see his team reach the PRO14 semi-final, having already secured their place in next season’s European Champions Cup. Preview by Erin McRitchie
Richard Cockerill believes this weekend’s play-off meeting with Munster will see his Edinburgh side “be the underdogs.”
The two sides have only met once this season in the PRO14, with Edinburgh claiming a 12-6 victory at BT Murrayfield.
This has not deterred Cockerill or his players from focusing on the importance of this game, however.
“It’s a big day for us,” Cockerill said. “We’ve earned the right to be there and the table doesn’t lie.
“We’ve worked really hard and are going there with confidence to give it our best shot.”
While players like Chris Dean and Blair Kinghorn return to the match-day fold, Cockerill has recognised that both sides will be looking to run out at full strength come Saturday, with “no resting players”.
He has certainly named a fierce Edinburgh side. The forward pack remains unchanged from that which started against Glasgow last week, with Stuart McInally once again captaining the side.
In the back division, there are only three changes made – in addition to Kinghorn and Dean, Mark Bennett returns to the starting 15, taking his place in the centre, with James Johnstone dropping to the bench.
Johnstone is joined on the bench by the likes of young talent Lewis Carmichael and club centurions WP Nel and Cornell du Preez.
Over in Munster, head coach Johann van Graan has named a side which has brought in 12 changes following their 24-24 draw with Ulster last week.
Most notable of the changes are the returns of internationalists CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony – who captains the Irish side – and Simon Zebo. This will be Zebo’s last start for Munster at Thomond Park, as he leaves for Racing 92 at the end of this season.
Their back division is also boosted by the selection of Munster Player of the Year Keith Earls on the wing, and Munster Young Player of the Year Sammy Arnold at outside centre.
In his latest meeting with the press, Cockerill praised Van Graan’s Munster, saying “they’re a great side” comprised of “rugby people”, thus his Edinburgh players will “enjoy this contest”.
Meanwhile, back-row Magnus Bradbury, believes that the capital side have truly benefited from the mind-set promoted by Cockerill, as he said: “He knows how to win and he’s brought that in.”
This new leadership has seen Edinburgh, in conference B of the PRO14, record 15 league wins in the regular season – a feat only matched by Glasgow Warriors in conference A.
The young forward also told the media that Edinburgh’s players are “hungry for more”, following their recent wins over in-form teams such as Glasgow, who they defeated 24-19 to win the 1872 Cup last weekend.
At the prospect of facing Munster at their home of Thomond Park, Bradbury proclaimed that “it’s what they [the team] put on the park” that will determine the game.
Edinburgh’s starting fly-half, Jaco van der Walt – who said he felt “privileged” to be playing in the PRO14 play-offs – believes it will be a hard-fought meeting.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “Munster are a very good team; they are very physical – but we are prepared.
“If we stick to our basic disciplines, we will give ourselves every chance of coming away with a positive result.”
In Ireland, van Graan revealed: “We’ve got a plan and we’ll try and execute that as best we can.”
However, he acknowledged the current form of Cockerill’s men, saying they are “a red-hot team, playing some fantastic rugby” and have “got a lot of belief” as a team.
Despite such praise, Cockerill does not want his players to get ahead of themselves, though he does concede that everything is still to play for.
“But three games and we’re champions – that may seem unrealistic, and may well be, but why not think like that?”
Come kick-off at 3:15pm on Saturday, as Nigel Owens takes charge of the quarter-final, fans will be presented with 80 minutes of hard-fought rugby.
The winner of Saturday’s clash will go on to face Leinster in Dublin for the chance to reach the PRO14 Final on the 26th May.