Pro14: Edinburgh Season Preview
After a season in which Edinburgh were widely regarded as scrappy underdogs throughout the year, Richard Cockerill’s side are looking to build on their achievements to be able to mount a serious title challenge. Steven Brown previews their season ahead.
Edinburgh will come into the new season of the Guinness Pro14 with high hopes of what they can achieve. They were known as the underdogs of last season, but they will be wanting to improve upon their reputation of falling short that they acquired and instead be candidates to become Pro14 champions.
They ended their last match of the Pro14 with a narrow 19-22 semi-final defeat at home against Ulster. Their season finally closed out in the last couple of weeks, with Edinburgh travelling to Bordeaux for what would be an eventual loss in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals.
This might seem like a negative end to their season, but in the past few years Edinburgh have made great leaps and bounds in progressing and moulding their team into true championship contenders . Their new coach Richard Cockerill has gone down a storm with the club and has subsequently signed on until 2023.
Not only did they end the season top of their conference, but they also won the 1872 Cup and collected a few awards on the way. After leading the club to their first ever Pro14 semi-final, Cockerill was applauded as the Coach of the Season. Winger Duhan van der Merwe, one of Edinburgh’s six Pro14 Dream Team representatives, was named as the Players’ Player of the Season after scoring 11 tries in 17 appearances, while Darcy Graham picked up the Try of the Season award for his magnificent effort against Glasgow Warriors in the 1872 Cup.
At the moment, there is a lot of positive energy surrounding the club, especially with the club having their new stadium being built right beside the national stadium, BT Murrayfield. This move will hopefully provide Edinburgh’s home ground with an atmosphere similar to that of Scotstoun, as the stadium on the West Coast has become a fortress for the Glasgow Warriors.
Unfortunately however, Cockerill has an all too familiar sense of pressure coming into the new season, with only a 14-day turnaround from the previous season. How this will affect the players is yet to be seen, especially as they have already experienced a substantial hiatus from rugby due to the coronavirus pandemic – on the plus side, this break will have helped the squad to fully recover from the huge demands that professional rugby can place on both the body and mind.
Over the period that play was restricted, Edinburgh suffered a couple of big losses in personnel. The biggest loss was of their captain, John Barclay, who announced his retirement in August at the age of 33. Barclay joined the club after a five year spell at Scarlets in Wales back in 2018 and enjoyed a successful period in what would be the twilight of his career. Matt Scott has been another notable departure, with the centre agreeing a move down to the Leicester Tigers back in April.
Despite these departures, Edinburgh have been able to maintain a sense of confidence coming into the new season, with many of their standout performers opting to extend their time at the club. Over the course of 2020, Edinburgh have negotiated contract extensions with Hamish Watson, Bill Mata, Henry Pygros and Simon Berghan, all of whom are crucial components to Cockerill’s squad.
Edinburgh will kick-off their Pro14 season at home on Saturday 2nd of October against the Ospreys, who finished bottom of their conference with only 17 points last season. This will be a good starting point for Cockerill’s side, with a home advantage against a team who are struggling. They can use the Ospreys as a stepping stone to gather consistency, which they struggled to find last season. Overall Edinburgh have a fighting chance for the first time in their history to become Pro14 champions.