There have been quite a number of players unpacking at Murrayfield since the end of last season and looking at them individually, you can guess who might be starters and those who are destined to be back-ups. Unless of course they get a chance to shine like the unheralded Darryl Marfo did when he arrived last year.
Has that churn improved the squad and more importantly – given that we don’t operate in a vacuum – has it improved it when compared to the changes made at our main rivals?
Of course it looks like Cockerill has recruited well. You’d have to be blind to think otherwise, but the positives are offset to a certain extent by injuries, for example to John Barclay, which will keep him out of a large chunk of the campaign.
In the backs Matt Scott and JP Socino are definitely players who can make a difference to an inexperienced backline and I’m fairly certain most of my fellow supporters would say that Henry Pyrgos will improve the team in the scrum half department. Simon Hickey has also arrived to compete for the stand-off berth and I feel a lot is expected of him without many of us really having seen him play. Occasional doubts therefore remain.
Our forwards are now almost ridiculously strong and although as mentioned we will have to wait to see John Barclay in the
red and black blue and burnt orange, Pierre Schoeman and Luke Hamilton are powerful recruits.
Who are our main rivals?
Handily, the Pro14 have decided that there will be no change to the conference structures for the incoming season so it’s not too difficult to say that our main competition in Conference B will undoubtedly be Leinster, Scarlets and Ulster. I’m not dismissing Benetton, Kings or Dragons, I’ve been an Edinburgh supporter too long to make that mistake, but if the first three clubs aren’t occupying three of the top four places come April 2019 I’ll cut my hair like Elton Jantjies. In conference A, three games against our historic foes Glasgow Warriors could be crucial and we will also have Cardiff and Cheetahs at home. A trip to Cork to play Munster rounds out our ties against last season’s top four Conference A sides.
Leinster have been fairly quiet in the transfer market. They’ve brought four in from their academy as well as Joe Tomane from Montpellier. They have said goodbye to Isa Nacewa, Jordi Murphy and Joey Carberry which shouldn’t harm their frightening strength in depth. They also welcome back Felipe Contepomi to their already strong coaching set-up.
Verdict – Edinburgh gain but not significantly enough. League and Europeans winner last season, Leinster are a settled side full of quality.
Ulster were in disarray last year and a rebuilding operation is underway. Dan McFarland will be joining them as head coach, but not until December (nice one SRU) and that can only be a further disadvantage. On the playing side they have brought in Billy Burns from Gloucester which is a seriously good signing as well as Aviva Premiership regulars Will Addison and Marty Moore from Sale Shark and Wasps respectively. On the debit side they have lost some excellent players in the likes of Tommy Bowe, Charles Piutau and Andrew Trimble.
Verdict – Even with their problems last year they ran Edinburgh close for third in conference B. Burns will be a great standoff for them but Edinburgh’s recruits will keep them ahead in this race.
Scarlets have lost three outstanding players in Tadgh Beirne, Scott Williams and John Barclay who they will miss keenly. They have however brought in some intriguing replacements in the form of fullback Clayton Blommetjies, who was great for Cheetahs last season, Blade Thomson (who will no doubt be watched closely by Toonie), Uzair Cassiem also from Cheetahs and our very own financial cast-off, Sam Hidalgo Clyne. The other factor clouding the waters at Scarlets will be the departure of Coach Wayne Pivac at the end of the season to take over from Warren Gatland. Does knowing your coach is leaving motivate or not?
Verdict – As good as Scarlets replacements are I can’t see them rising to the heights of Barclay and Beirne. Advantage Edinburgh.
Two incoming players in the form of Tadgh Beirne and Joey Carbery stand out in Munster’s close season work. With only Simon Zebo a serious loss for the Limerick side. Edinburgh had two tough but close matches against them last season and the fact that we are away this year could just be the deciding factor.
Verdict – Two great recruits and home advantage mean that Munster are a little ahead, although the timing of the match, right after the November internationals, could make it a lottery in terms of personnel available to either side.
If you thought there had been a lot of transfer activity at Edinburgh then Cheetahs make that look like chump change. Ten have left including the aforementioned Blommetjies and Cassiem whilst amongst those also hitting the exit button is club captain Francois Venter. The ten incomers on the face of it don’t look like having the same quality but South Africa has a broad player pool.
Verdict – Cheetahs have also lost their head coach since the end of last season and this has the appearance of a major overhaul which will take time to bed in. It’s a home game, so advantage
Cardiff Blues finished last season on a high by winning the Challenge Cup having disposed of Edinburgh en route to the final and they got steadily stronger as the season progressed. In light of that they have been relatively quiet signings wise with Dimitri Arhip and Samu Manoa the two highlights. Also incoming was Jason Harries who I thought was unlucky not to get more game time during his short spell at Edinburgh. The Blues are yet another team with a change of coach as Danny Wilson has left to join the Scotland set up as forwards coach. They have also lost Alex Cuthbert to Exeter Chiefs and the hugely influential Sam Warburton to retirement.
Verdict – another cross-conference home game for Edinburgh. Squads look evenly matched; too close to call.
And our good friends at Glasgow Warriors? The prodigal Finn Russell has left to chase the all-powerful Franc (Euro) and Henry Pyrgos has made the journey east to the land of salt and sauce. Incoming are David Tamelieu and Nick Frisby. And that’s all she wrote for the time being at Scotstoun, much to the frustration of many Glasgow fans. Will that be it – and will it be enough to keep Glasgow in the top spots over in Conference A? My answers would be “who knows” and “probably”.
Verdict – Derbies are always hard to predict and form is not always a reliable yardstick when other motivations come into play but I think the 1872 cup will be staying in Edinburgh for another year.
Overall only two points separated the top 3 three in Conference B last year and I see no reason that this season won’t be similarly tight. If Edinburgh can sidestep the tricky second album scenario
(think- Stone Roses Second Coming) and overcome the fact that they are no longer the surprise package then the playoffs beckon for a second season in a row.
More than that, well let’s just see?
The season can’t come soon enough.