Edinburgh Rugby face crunch time as Six Nations approaches

Edinburgh Rugby are currently in the midst of a short, hard-earned break in their 2019/20 season. Here, Erin McRitchie takes some time to look at what is coming up in the remainder of the season for Richard Cockerill’s squad.

(Credit: EN4 News)

The loss of internationalists

With the Guinness Six Nations fast approaching, Richard Cockerill has had to wave goodbye to 16 of his Edinburgh players as they head off on international duty with Scotland, and one – Pietro Ceccarelli – with Italy.

Of all those called upon, 13 are forwards and four are from the backline, so the impact of the internationals will be felt the hardest in the forward pack.

Cockerill will really have to put a lot of faith in the depth of his squad in the scrum in the next month or so.

However, this could produce many positives, as it is in times like the Six Nations period that young players can step up and utilise all of the opportunities afforded to them throughout the competition’s run.

The Pro14

Edinburgh have three crucial games during the Six Nations, as they face Scarlets away before back-to-back fixtures at BT Murrayfield, against Connacht and Cardiff Blues.

In terms of the Conference B table, Edinburgh head into the break in pole position on 34 points, whilst their first competitors after the break – Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets – are just three points behind them in second place.

Scarlets will most likely have a clear purpose in mind when Cockerill’s men arrive in Llanelli and will be boosted by the re-signing of back Steff Evans, as well as the fact they have won all but one of their home fixtures this season.

Following that tussle between first and second place, the Scottish club will welcome Irish outfit Connacht to BT Murrayfield, who reside in fourth position, before Welshmen Cardiff Blues, currently sitting fifth, arrive in the Scottish capital just a week later.

Connacht will arrive in Edinburgh with their attention solely on pushing ahead in their Pro14 campaign having missed out on the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup through a narrow 35-29 defeat to Montpellier at the weekend.

And finally, Cardiff Blues make a trip to Edinburgh having fallen 19-11 at home to Cockerill’s team in October.

The Challenge Cup

By defeating Agen 36-0 at BT Murrayfield last weekend, Edinburgh earned their place in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup.

Going into the play-off stage in sixth place means that Edinburgh will face fellow pool 3 team, Bordeaux, for their chance to advance to the semi-finals of the European competition.

Thankfully for Cockerill and his team, they will not face this challenge until after the culmination of the Six Nations, as the quarter-finals take place on the weekend of April 3.

Edinburgh look to continue perfect home start as Bordeaux bring European challenge

Edinburgh assistant coach Duncan Hodge (pictured) and centre Matt Scott spoke to the media to preview their European Challenge Cup game against Bordeaux Begles following their round one win away to Agen last weekend. (Credit: Erin McRitchie)

 

Edinburgh Rugby will look to retain their 100% home record this season as they welcome the Bordeaux Begles to Murrayfield Stadium on Friday in the second leg of the European Challenge Cup.

The capital side come in to the fixture having beaten another French outfit, Agen, 31-10 last week, while Bordeaux – who are second in the French Top 14 – defeated Wasps 40-30 in a back and forth encounter.

Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill has handed Fijian internationalist Bill Mata his first start of the season after the No. 8s return from the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Mata also featured in Fiji’s side which took on the Barbarians at Twickenham Stadium last weekend.

Along with Mata, Cockerill rotates a further seven internationalists in to his starting 15. Blair Kinghorn starts at fullback, whilst the blooming partnership of Mark Bennett and Matt Scott is selected to start in the centre.

Ben Toolis and Grant Gilchrist – both club centurions – are the locks chosen to pack down in the boiler room, bolstered by Magnus Bradbury on the flank whilst Henry Pyrgos rounds out the international contingent as he captains the side from the scrum half position.

John Barclay, Jamie Bhatti and Simon Berghan hold the international caps on the bench, and having made his starting debut last weekend against Agen, Charlie Shiel drops out of the starting 15 to make way for Pyrgos.

Discussing his selections, Cockerill explained his side want to continue with their momentum on the back of their 31-10 win in the first round.

“We’ve made a number of changes to the starting line-up – bringing back plenty of experience across the board – and I expect us to perform on the night. We’re back at BT Murrayfield in front of our own supporters and we always want to do well at home.”

“We’ve had a really good training week and the boys are looking forward to the challenge,” Cockerill added.

Cockerill’s side still has a number of injuries, including leading figures Jamie Ritchie and Fraser McKenzie.

Also unavailable for selection is back row Nick Haining, as earlier this week he received a two week ban from the EPCR governing body following an independent disciplinary hearing into an incident in the Agen game where he is accused of striking Thomas Vincent with his head.

Speaking at a press conference earlier this week, Edinburgh assistant coach Duncan Hodge expressed his delight with his side’s performance in their opening European fixture of the season.

“We made a lot of changes and the most pleasing thing was that a lot of guys got some game time and we performed well both sides of the ball,” Hodge said.

Hodge believes there will be some rotation in the squad from that which was named to face Agen.

“Potentially there’s going to be some changes and the onus in a competitive squad is to stand up and earn or keep their places,” Hodge said.

Centre Matt Scott will be one of those players rotated back in to the squad. Places in the centre have become extremely competitive this season as players like George Taylor, Chris Dean and James Johnstone look to challenge Matt Scott and Mark Bennett’s blossoming centre partnership.

“You just have to look at how well those guys have played when they have come in. It is a testament to the depth of the squad now that we can send a team last week that got a bonus point away in France,” Scott said.

“That’s difficult no matter what the opposition is, but these guys can step up another and play at that level. I think it is great and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Scott also considered how fixtures against the French sides seem to bring out the very competitive best in Richard Cockerill’s team.

“You only really think about it when somebody tells you that, and then you think, ‘Oh, yes, we have been good against French teams.’ I think the last couple of times we’ve played them we’ve just tried to keep the tempo high.

“Historically, they are big, heavy teams, big men and we try to move them around a bit. That has tended to work for us the last few times we’ve done it.

“Montpellier, Toulon, with bigger names in European rugby than our star players, I think it brings out the best from us. Same again this week against Bordeaux. They have some outstanding individuals, so it will be the same. We will all be wanting to test ourselves against these guys.”

Edinburgh will kick off against the Bordeaux Begles at 7:35pm, Friday 22nd November at BT Murrayfield.

A Wonderful World Cup in Japan

By Fergus Robb

With the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan drawing to a close, it is nearly time to reflect on the ups and downs of the tournament to assess just how well the hosts have done.

Trials, tribulations and typhoons have filled the Japanese air during this tournament, and the World Rugby association board has come under a lot of scrutiny.

There is no doubt the brave blossoms of Japan have been fan favourites during this World Cup and have captured the heart of many a neutral rugby fan.

The Japanese culture is another aspect of the experience which has made this World Cup such an intriguing and exciting one.

With England and South Africa ready for a final showdown in the final game on Saturday, it is time to beg the question – was this a successful Rugby World Cup?

The tragedies of typhoon Hagibis left a lot of Japan in disarray. More importantly, World Rugby put safety at the forefront and cancelled games to ensure fan and game personnel’s security.

The typhoon caused major destruction across the country with flooding and structural devastation claiming lives.

World Rugby assured fans prior to the tournament that there would be typhoon contingency plans put in place, however many saw no such signs of this.

As a result of the poor planning on World Rugby’s behalf, some games were cancelled, upsetting fans on a global level. In one specific case, the Italy v New Zealand game being called off robbed the Azzurri of any chance to qualify for the knockout rounds and prevented a number of their experienced players from having a final send-off.

Outwith the devastation of the typhoon, the rugby world can agree that Japan have succeeded in hosting the tournament. The efficiency of those in charge has meant that, apart from the forced game cancellations, everything has run rather smoothly.

The stadiums, transport, fan zones and host cities were all ideal for a tournament such as this. The Japanese culture of respectfulness and joy was well reflected throughout the World Cup and could be seen upon the faces of many a fan during the games.

The success of the host nation during their campaign is hoped to have inspired a new generation of Japanese rugby players, as well as having caught the eye of every rugby fan in the world.

So, despite the minor setback of the most devastating typhoon to hit Japan in 60 years, the country was an excellent host for the Rugby World Cup. This tournament has played host to some of the most shocking rugby upsets and most entertaining games of the last few years.

With Wales and New Zealand fighting it out on Friday for the bronze medal, it is between England and South Africa to see who lifts the Webb Ellis Trophy come Saturday morning.

Regardless of these results, Japan, as a country, will end the tournament on a high and deserve to pat themselves on the back for a job well done as tournament hosts.

Is This The TownsEND?

Last week, Scotland’s Rugby World Cup came to an abrupt end. The national teams trip came to a close after being outplayed by the hosts, Japan, in the decisive final game of the pool stages. As well as a loss to Ireland, this years World Cup has been a letdown for Gregor Townsend’s side. As Scotland rugby continue to disappoint on the big stage and leave fans empty handed by falling at the first hurdle, the question must be asked: Is Townsend right for the job?

Townsend took charge of the Scots in the summer of 2017 and since his start there has been no doubt of an improvement around the Scotland camp. Gregor Townsend has brought fast and attacking rugby into Scotland’s game which is something their fans have rarely seen before. However, since a successful first year and a huge win over England, the form under Townsend has plateaued. Unfortunately, this inconsistent form has come for the squad at the worst possible time.

Whilst almost every Scotland fan appreciates Townsend’s work and progress so far, there are a large majority of fans who have put pressure for a change in coaching after the loss to Japan. There are many mixed emotions over Townsend’s place in the Scotland set up. It has been so hard to determine whether he has done particularly good or bad. Since taking over the coaching duties, Townsend has taken charge of 22 games, winning 11, losing 10 and drawing 1. Although such numbers aren’t bad, there are improvements to be made. Many fans have expressed that Townsend has taken Scotland as far as he can – he has laid the foundations for improvement, it is now time for someone else to take over.

One thing Scotland fans can’t deny is the former Glasgow Warriors coach’s man-management. Townsend has turned inconsistent players into Scotland’s key men. World-class fly-half Finn Russell is like a different player. Adam Hastings, Ali Price, Sam Johnson, Scott Cummings and Darcy Graham are amongst just some of the players that have been given opportunities during his time – so far they have not disappointed.

There are arguments for both sides of this debate and one thing the Scottish Rugby Union do not want to do is oust their head coach too early. He has brought a distinct brand of rugby into the country’s play for the first time in years and has also made the side consistently play a brand of rugby that fans enjoy to watch. He has promoted youth from the start of his Scotland tenure and he also is not afraid to take a risk when needed. On the other hand, fans complain there isn’t enough priority on defensive work for Scotland – potentially the reason we were knocked out of the world cup. As well as that, fans fear that Scotland’s results have not been consistent.

The loss to an incredible Japan team in the final World Cup pool match was not all down to Townsend. Nevertheless, fans have been questioning the coach for a fair while now. Townsend will no doubt stay in charge until at least the coming Six Nations in which a decision will be made by the board to decide whether he will stay as Scotland coach. With a grey cloud over the Scotland squad after a bleak World Cup performance, the only way is surely up.

Edinburgh Prepare to Face Conference Leaders Scarlets

Credit – Erin McRitchie

Following a week’s break, Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh men will be back in Pro14 action against Scarlets at BT Murrayfield this Saturday. The Welshmen travel to the capital as Conference B leaders, whilst Edinburgh hold up fourth place in the table.

Edinburgh Rugby return to Pro14 league action this weekend as they take on conference leaders Scarlets at BT Murrayfield on Saturday, for a 7:35pm kick off.

Scarlets come in to the fixture on the back of a 54-10 win over Zebre in Llanelli, whilst Edinburgh will be looking to produce a stronger performance than they managed in their last outing against Leinster, which ended 40-14 in the Irishmen’s favour.

Edinburgh’s head coach Richard Cockerill spoke on Tuesday about the challenge Scarlets will pose. “They’re a good side, they’ve got good players and they’ve had as many missing as ourselves,” he said. “They’re unbeaten, they’ve got a new coach who has a very expansive way of playing.”

“They’re pretty much like ourselves: they’re pretty functional, they look to get the ball wide, very hard off the line in defence – we’ve had a couple of games already where teams do that.”

Credit – Erin McRitchie

Speaking about his side’s performance against the Irish juggernauts Leinster, Cockerill admitted: “We need to bounce back from a pretty average performance in parts. There were some good parts at Leinster too, so we’ve got to put that together.”

 

 

 

 

In order to put themselves in good standing for a possible play-off spot later in the season, Edinburgh will be looking to claim victories, or at the very least come within a losing bonus point, of the majority of  their conference rivals.

 

As for now, Edinburgh will remain playing without the bulk of their internationalists who, despite being knocked out of the World Cup with Scotland, will require a well-earned break before returning to featuring for their professional clubs.

The players who have remained in the capital in their absence are confident that Edinburgh’s game plan this season stands them in good stead to continue developing in a positive direction.

Credit – Erin McRitchie

Winger Duhan Van Der Merwe believes that Edinburgh’s will benefit from a more expansive game. “Our new system and game plan have been working well I think, we have a great backline and we have to give those boys some time on the ball to show what they are about.”

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, back-rower Nick Haining, who signed for the club at the beginning of the summer, believes that the game against Scarlets will be a good test for the style of play Edinburgh have adopted.

“This will be a good marker for us,” the forward said. “We’re quite happy with how things are going, we’ve had some good results – maybe not the Leinster one – but we took some good learnings out of that and so this will be a good test for us.”

Check out our footage of Edinburgh’s training session ahead of Saturday’s showdown below:

 

 

 

Cockerill and Douglas provide Edinburgh update heading into Leinster clash

Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill and second row Murray Douglas spoke to the media this week as both addressed the ground out win against Cardiff Blues last weekend, before looking ahead to the tough competition they will face from Leinster away from home again this weekend.

Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill has named his side to face reigning champions Leinster at the RDS Arena tomorrow evening.

Winger Duhan Van Der Merwe seems to have shaken off a shoulder knock he picked up during the side’s 19-11 win over Cardiff Blues last weekend as he starts on the left wing with Jamie Farndale named on the right.

Matt Scott remains out of the team due to injury as George Taylor instead pairs Mark Bennett in the centre, whilst Nic Groom and Jaco Van Der Walt are due to remain in charge of the game for another week as they seem to be the first-choice half back partnership.

Jamie Hodgson comes in to the side to join Murray Douglas in the scrum’s boiler room, whilst Mesu Kunavula is named in the starting 15 for the first time on the flank. Sam Thomson may make his Edinburgh debut if he comes off the bench.

The most concerning omission for the capital side is Lewis Carmichael, as the second row is currently sporting a moon boot and crutches. The lock has only just returned having missed the entirety of the 2018/19 season.

“He’s got a slight ankle problem,” Cockerill explained. “He had an accident in training – just went over on his ankle. So, we’re hopeful he’ll be alright, but we’ll see.”

Quizzed on the fact that a moon boot usually indicates a couple of weeks recovery before returning to action, Cockerill brushed off the concern, saying; “You sneeze and they put a boot on your foot these days. We’ll just see. It’s too early to tell.”

Cockerill is feeling confident in his side’s mindset heading in to the clash, despite the injury doubts.

“We go to Leinster this weekend and it’s another big challenge for us,” he said. “They’ve got some real experience in key areas in the spine of that team. If you let Leinster get on the front foot and control the tempo of the game they’re going to cause problems. We hope to put up a bit more of a fight than Ospreys did.”

The Irish province – who are the reigning Pro14 champions – also come in to the encounter on the back of a win having beaten Ospreys 53-5 last weekend, running in eight tries in the process.

Edinburgh second row Murray Douglas said the team will be looking to play a strong all-round game against the Irish side.

“We’ll be trying to put together a solid performance for 80 minutes this week. Everyone’s really upbeat and positive and it’s a bit of confidence after the Cardiff win as well.”

“It’s the reigning champs in their own backyard, so it’s going to be a big battle,” the lock added.

Leinster name a strong side to welcome the Scottish outfit as Scott Fardy captains a side which sees the experienced Dave Kearney return to feature on the wing following a man of the match performance in round one. Meanwhile Scott Penny will make his first appearance of the season as he starts on the flank.

The Irish side aren’t without their own injury issues however, as Barry Daly, Ciaran Frawley and Dan Leavy all remain out.

Teams:

Edinburgh: Damien Hoyland, Jamie Farndale, Mark Bennett, George Taylor, Duhan Van Der Merwe; Jaco Van Der Walt, Nic Groom; Pierre Schoeman, Mike Willmse, Pietro Ceccarelli, Jamie Hodgson, Murray Douglas, Mesu Kunavula, Luke Crosbie, Nick Haining. Subs: Fenton, Bhatti, McCallum, Thomson, Miller, Shiel, Hickey, Johnstone.

Leinster: Hugo Keenan, Dave Kearney, Rory O’Loughlin, Joe Tomane, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Peter Dooley, Ronan Kelleher, Michael Bent, Devin Toner, Scott Fardy, Max Deegan, Scott Penny, Caelen Doris. Subs: Tracy, Milne, Abdaladze, Molony, Murphy, Osborne, H Byrne, J O’Brien.

 

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Rugby World Cup: Scotland’s hopes remain in the balance after Ireland return to winning ways against Russia

Scotland’s Rugby World Cup hopes remain in the balance after Pool A rivals Ireland returned to winning ways by comprehensively beating Russia 35-0 on Wednesday.

Ireland, who fell to a shock defeat to World Cup hosts Japan on Saturday, scored five tries as they secured a vital bonus-point win.

Scores from Rob Kearney, Peter O’Mahony, Rhys Ruddock, Andrew Conway and Garry Ringrose ensured Ireland returned to the top of Pool A, which remains wide open thanks to Japan’s win over the Irish in Shizuoka.

The win leaves Joe Schmidt’s side are two points ahead of Japan and six points ahead of Scotland after three games, although both Scotland and Japan have a game in hand. Japan play Samoa on Saturday while Scotland face Russia on Wednesday.

“We are delighted to get a good win and back on the horse and we got the bonus point which was what we were looking for,” Ireland fly-half Jonny Sexton said afterwards.

“They are a well organised team and made it difficult for us at times. The ball was very slippy and there is lots to work on but we are onto the next one against Samoa.”

Jonny Gray set to make 50th cap for Scotland

Jonny Gray

Gray excited for Wales clash (Credit: David Ronney)

Glasgow Warriors lock, Jonny Gray will start against Wales on Saturday and will join an illustrious club of players who have racked up a half century of caps for Scotland rugby team.

The 24-year-old made his first full debut for the national side back in November 2013 and since then has impressed spectators with a number of solid performances. He is quickly catching up with older brother, Richie Gray, who has 62 national caps and one for the British and Irish Lions.

So far this tournament Jonny Gray has played 134 minutes making 15 carries and 37 tackles as part of the first line of defence against Ireland and France.

Jonny Gray is proud of his achievments but was quick to emphasise the weekends match will be a team effort. Wales are currently the only unbeaten team in this years Six Nations tournamnet.

“It’s not about me. This week is huge, last week was very tough to take.

“To be here is such a special feeling. It’s something I never thought that I would do when I was younger. To be here I’m very lucky.”

Even though Scotland can no longer challenge for the championship title, Gray insisted that playing for the country was an honour.

“When you are playing for Scotland there is always something to play for.”

 

Scotland welcome Grand Slam chasers Wales to the capital – The Six Nations Preview Show

Greig Laidlaw

Scotland captain, Greig Laidlaw is dropped to the bench for home match against Wales. (Credit: David Ronney)

Following back to back defeats in this Six Nations Championship, Scotland prepare for their last home match of the tournament against Grand Slam chasers, Wales.

With Scotland at terms with themselves out of the running to win the competition, they’ll be looking to upset the Welsh party with a win against the visitors.

David Ronney is joined by Bryce Donaldson and Fraser Munro for The Six Nations Preview Show.

Watch it below:

Scotland aiming for first Six Nations win

Rugby Ball

Scotland are yet to win a match this Six Nations. (Credit: David Ronney)

Scotland will look to pick up their first win of the 2019 Women’s Six Nations when they host Wales at Scotstoun tonight.

Shade Munro’s side have lost three out of three so far this campaign, but the match against Wales presents a realistic chance for the Scots to pick up a much-needed victory.

Tonight’s visitors sit one place above Scotland, having drawn once and lost twice in their three games so far. Rowland Phillips’s Welsh side held high-flying Italy last time out, and they’ll be looking to continue that momentum into the game in Glasgow.

Ahead of tonight’s game, Scotland have made four changes from the 41-10 defeat to France. The most notable change being Mhiari Grieve being brought in at scrum-half following Sarah Law’s injury.

As for Wales, Lleucu George gets the nod at centre. Lauren Smyth has also been drafted in, and joins George in the backline.

Kick-off tonight is at 7.35pm.

 

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