Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Edinburgh – What’s gone wrong and right so far this season

Bill Mata
Bill Mata in action for Edinburgh- pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

A quick look at the Superbru app on Friday afternoon probably confirmed my own thoughts about the game in Cork. Overall only 2% of players expected Edinburgh to win and even in the Edinburgh fans group that prediction only rose to 6%.

Rather than dissect this game specifically – if you are reading this you already know many of the reasons that Edinburgh lost to Munster – I thought instead we could have a look at what is going wrong and right for the Blue and Burnt Orange so far this season.


Despite having backs capable of inventiveness we have not seen that aspect of our game often enough. There seems to be a reluctance at times to move the ball wide. Think back to games against Leinster and Dragons for example where we have racked up huge numbers of phases with one out forward plays yet come away with no points for the huge effort made.

We have a good 10, unfortunately, it’s two people. One, Hickey plays very deep which seems to give the opposition huge amounts of time to set themselves for our attacks but has a tremendous boot. The other, Van Der Walt plays at the gain line but his kicking is average at best.

Due to injuries we have suffered badly in this last period. John Barclay, Matt Scott, Mark Bennett, Magnus Bradbury, Lewis Carmichael and Luke Crosbie are all out as it stands. Not all of those would have been with Scotland but when you are down to the bare bones any extra bodies would have been appreciated and had, for example, Bradbury been fit for Scotland we may well have had Jamie Ritchie available to the club.

Fraser Mackenzie is also injured and during the internationals would have been a likely choice as captain. He’s done it before quite successfully as I recall. We have lacked leadership in this period; captaincy doesn’t seem to sit well with Pyrgos.

Talking of leadership – the absence of a raft of heavily experienced players such as Watson, Gilchrist, McInally and Mata whilst they ply their trade with Scotland and Fiji respectively would be hard for any team to replace but Edinburgh’s squad is shallow. To ask callow youths such as Hodgson, Atkinson and Taylor to all come in at the same time and emulate their more celebrated teammates was always going to be a long shot.

Edinburgh have also suffered at the hands of some, to put it politely, average refereeing. By nature these things even themselves out but clear mistakes by refs in the games v Ospreys and Ulster have cost us points and therefore momentum. 8 games on the road without a win is definitely becoming a monkey on our back but if even one of those two games had finished differently the narrative changes.

Cockerill clearly has a distinct lack of faith in anyone other than Pyrgos at scrum half. Kennedy and Fowles have barely had any game time with Henry taking all the responsibility. Shiel hasn’t been given any kind of look in at all. Not good from a competition point of view and it clearly lets everyone know how we are going to play while also making a mockery of the decision to let Hidalgo-Clyne walk. Box kick anyone?

Some players are not hitting the heights of last year, chiefly among them, Duhan Van Der Merwe. To be fair to him the ball isn’t exactly being sent his way too often but the deficiencies in his game seem more obvious than before. He seems unable or unwilling to pass. He loves to bash it up but is losing the ball in contact too often and his tackling leaves a lot to be desired. We’ve also not seen much from Blair Kinghorn this season either.

Some new additions are not proving their worth yet. There has been little of note from Socino, albeit with limited game time and Hickey may just not be the 10 we are looking for as already mentioned.


To dovetail that last paragraph we have had some stand out performances from new boys. Pierre Schoeman has been a revelation and Luke Hamilton has proven his worth in a position that most of us probably thought was well covered. Matt Scott has also done well on his return to the team.

When we have been good we look dangerous and really robust – Montpellier away (loss notwithstanding), at home to Toulon and even the recent win against Scarlets with a weakened team. We have scored some wonderful tries both from forwards and backs, McInally v Montpellier and Tom Brown v Scarlets are good examples.

This recent period has given valuable big game experience to the likes of Hodgson. Hunter-Hill, Miller and Atkinson. Taylor and Baggott. They all look like decent prospects and the next time they are called on will be better for this.

We have some serious depth in the front row even in the midst of internationals and injuries. A front row of Schoeman, Ford and Ceccarelli with McCallum, Sutherland and Cherry on the bench is good by any standard. There was even a welcome return for Darryl Marfo in the loss to Munster,

Bill Mata has become a genuine world class talent and we will be lucky to keep him when his contract is up. His family seem settled within the large Fijian community in Edinburgh, as witnessed by recent video of the get together they all had at Dreghorn Barracks so hopefully that will count in our favour. We click when he plays – (Scarlets) and don’t when he doesn’t (Dragons).

We are still in the hunt in the league and after ten rounds of the competition we are 5th. Although this is disappointing there are still plenty of games to turn this around and third is not unachievable.

We are also still well in contention in the Heineken Cup with the next two weeks being crucial to our progress. Our Scotland internationals and Big Bill will be back for the double headers against Newcastle and then Glasgow so there is plenty to look forward to.

I’ll say one thing about Friday night in Cork. I’ve read on various social media platforms that Edinburgh are a disgrace for fielding such an understrength team and they were an embarrassment. Nothing could be further from the truth and I fully endorse Cockerill’s position on this.

I would rather the Scotland contingent got their rest now and be raring to go now for the busy and important period ahead. A trip to Munster is difficult even at the best of times so I feel he was well within his rights to manage the squad to hopefully get the best of them going forward. And it is exactly what Munster would do.

If there is any finger pointing to be done here, save it for the PRO14 and their scheduling – my thoughts on that will be coming soon…

33 Responses

    1. not just a 5 day turnround, but 2 away games. I will guarantee you it won’t happen for Munster or Leinster

  1. Munster scheduled themselves a free win…obvious in the 1 week “window” between AIs and HC to make folk travel to Cork…just in case you were thinking of sending a competitive side.

  2. Edinburgh don’t have the strength and depth of squad to challenge in both Pro 14 and Champions Cup. While getting to the knockout stages of the latter would be a major coup for the players and coaching team, there is no chance of the team advancing any further, and it would be at the expense of the league position. Given Edinburgh’s feeble away league form this season the Murrayfield match v Glasgow is a must win in terms of gathering league points primarily from home fixtures.

    Before that, given the resting of players and focus on the Champions Cup, Friday night at home to Newcastle is the crux match. Lose and I would expect key players to be rested in the return fixture in preparation for the Glasgow matches.

    At this stage of Edinburgh’s development it would be a safer option to focus on the league which would guarantee a place in next season’s Champions Cup with a more battle-hardened squad. Last season there was a sense of a very limited squad over-performing. The above analysis suggest that recruitment has been mixed with noticeable failing in the key scrum half/fly half positions. This season it can be argued that Edinburgh have been underperforming.

    Cockerill has had ‘easier’ matches so far this season to bring on younger inexperienced squad members but has failed to do so being overly reliant on a few standout performers who are in danger of burning out through carrying the team. Glasgow have been far more successful in integrating young players into the collective.

    1. Whilst I agree H Bear that Cockers has had easier matches to try out players, the problem though is that they have followed a game Edinburgh’s lost, so the players would be coming into a losing team and there is no guarantee we would win with these young lads in.

      Totally get your point, but Edinburgh’s form this season has been too inconsistent to really put a lot of these young lads in. I suspect Cockers would have wanted the like of CHH to play more prior to the autumn tests but he probably figured a win was more important in the grand scheme of things.

      It’s a different story at Glasgow as they are successful each week and it’s easier to bring in one or two players into a team used to winning with that experience around them.

      If Edinburgh can find some consistency then I would hope the like of Baggot, Shiel, Taylor would get some more game time, but the club aren’t there yet.

    2. League, international windows and Europe make for a real menage a trois for the Cockster…how much can you afford to lose in pursuit of Europe?

      Now 2 games off the playoffs in 9th overall.

      Last week’s game was perhaps fair enough to surrender, but not the ’72…then an “easy” run into the 6N.

      1. When you say “2 games off the playoffs in 9th”, presumably you meant “two points off the playoffs in 10th”.
        Sorry to be picky but it’s important as with two double headers (against Glasgow then Southern Kings) we have a chance to leapfrog Benetton if we win one more game than them out of the four. We could also move to 7th overall. We should be targeting 3 wins from these next 4 games.
        The problem is that the ERC games come between these P14 fixtures. I would suggest that Cockers cannot afford to rest anyone over the next two months. Crunch time.

      2. Yes 10th, I can’t count…but 7 points behind Ulster in 3rd…hence need to pick up 2 games to reach knock out stages of pro14

        4th indeed gets a chance to stay in Champions Cup via play off…which is not what I meant

    3. In terms of depth I’d say Edinburgh’s is actually pretty good but its been a bit of a perfect storm with 18 missing players. To make things worse the missing players have stacked up in the same positions and to several key players (second row and back row)

      Second row:
      We have 5 locks. First picks are Toolis and Gilcho. Had R. Gray been fit Toolis could have stayed with club. Backups to them are McKenzie and Carmichael who are both injured. This leaves us with our 5th choice lock (CHH) who had next to no pro experience starting alongside an academy player with another on the bench, both having no prior experience.

      Back Row:
      6. Barclay, Bradbury, Crosbie
      7. Watson, Ritchie, Miller
      8. Mata, Hamilton, Nayalo

      That’s 6/9 back row options missing. The 3 available are Hamilton, Miller and Nayalo. Hamilton doesn’t make the 23 if everyone is fit and Miller/Nayalo are nowhere near.

      Add to that the following who are all first choice if fit.

      – McInally
      – Scott
      – Bennett
      – Kinghorn
      – Nel + Berghan

      So while you expect depth to be tested, i’m not sure any of us could have seen it being this bad and cannot see any other club dealing with the same problem (except for Leinster).

      I’m personally more worried that once the full squad is back they just won’t fire.

  3. I agree with you that Luke Hamilton has performed well but not sure why he was discarded by Scotland …seemed a bit harsh …any idea why?

    1. Because there are other players better than him.

      He couldn’t get a start in a woeful Tigers pack – he’ll be a perfectly good club pro for Embra, but it’s international class.

  4. Edinburgh were unfortunate the way the fixtures fell. Do Munster and Leinster really have the clout to manipulate the fixtures not just in the Pro14, but the AIs also? It sounds like Cockerill’s paranoia is spilling onto the terraces and makes us sound like the Weegies constantly bitching about refs and TMOs. Surely there is enough authority at SRU to challenge the 5 day turnaround. Why was the Dragons game on a Sunday and why did it go unchallenged until Edinburgh lost? There’s a lot wrong with the Pro14, but sitting back until it all goes tits up is hardly the way to deal with it; it makes us look as farcical as them.
    Our lack of depth is making us look very vulnerable and we have lost as many games already as we lost in the entirety of last season. We now have two massive double headers against our closest geographical opponents and if we don’t get 4 wins our season is looking very shaky, lose them all and it’s finished. Cockerill’s call for more cash is going to fall on deaf ears if there is no Heineken Cup income, no playoff income and his relaxed attitude are re-signing out of contract players could well get a bit contentious.

    1. Just for info, the Dragons game was challenged (as to why we were playing so late on the sunday). The league and broadcasters were both fine for it to be moved earlier, but dragons rejected the request to move it on the basis they wanted to give time for fans to get to the game.

      As a result it went ahead at the previously scheduled time. Now it should never have been organised for then, especially with Munster away right after.

      Also on the ref stuff other clubs are also raising complaints about the same refs. Something needs to be done to improve the standard. I’d suggest having them centrally contracted by the pro14, but this would take a lot of infrastructure to set up, and I can’t see it happening any time soon.

      1. The biggest problem for the refs (some individuals aside) is that they are being completely and totally done over by “smart” teams that have been coached to prey on their weaknesses.

        I for one am a bit bored of watching the breakdown and the scrum as both teams try to win a penalty rather than the ball….

        The professionalism of coaching is way ahead of the professionalism of refereeing….do these guys practice and train, or do they just show up on a Saturday afternoon?

        I’d have them reffing 30-40 hours a week for 8 weeks over the pre-season, working with VR headsets and a review of their relative performances… Nobody gets on the field until all the refs can make the same decision for the same situation 95% of the time.

        TMO can be entirely replaced by AI review which, by design, makes a consistent and unbiased decision for the ref to consider.

        Plus maybe some more training in making decisions under pressure so that unintentional bias is reduced.

        Players go through all this sort of stuff now, so why can’t we pay refs to do their jobs properly?

      2. Some simple things would help to start like yellow carding every scrum half who feeds the scrum squint. Very quickly that issue would be put to bed. The breakdown and scrum itself may be more contentious but lets get the easy ones right for starters. If the refs aren’t already being calibrated weekly then that should start. All in a room watching scrum after scrum after scrum with former props coaching them until they all make the same decisions, the same with the breakdown.

        All high tackles should be referred to TMO without exception so that the right decision is more likely to be applied consistently. TMOs should then be heavily coached on their decisions.

      3. Another massive irritation I have that I’ll mention is how refs call the scrum differently. Some will issue each command one after another quickly whilst others wait a ridiculous length of time between each word in what comes across as a bizarre attempt to express dominance over the players. It’s just blatantly wrong and amateur, they should all do it the same.

      4. New yellow card criteria, alongside the scrum-feed:

        Asking for a yellow card to be given to the opposition (aka the Bismarck)

        Backs getting cramps at scrum/line out-time (aka the Sexton)

        Pretending to pick the ball up from the scrum/ruck (aka the Murray)

        Making deliberate contact with the opposition when a loose ball is available to be played (aka the Schmidt-pod special)

        REPEATEDLY falling on the opposition side of the tackle (aka the Wyn Jones)

        Being in amongst the opposition at every stoppage (aka the Itoje)

      5. I actually think world rugby need to make the rules more clear cut as opposed to blaming refs, imagine being a ref with so many of the rules being so vague.

  5. Interesting games against Newcastle. I see Hardie has started the
    last few and played the full 80. Kept Graham out of team on Saturday and was in Telegraph team of the week. Pleased for him and Scotland.

    1. They’ve a good core of Scots. Welsh, Young, Davidson, Graham, Hardie and Harris with a couple more young lads like Dawson and Graham’s brother in the academy. Believe the backs Williams and Tait also SQ though a fair queue in front of them these days.

  6. The 4th autumn international may have been beneficial to the SRU’s bottom line, but given the factors identified by Bazz above, and others has been severly detrimental to Edinburgh, particularly given the forthcoming run of games.

    The injury problems in the scrum back five mean that there can be no rotation over the next 4 fixtures for Toolis, Gilchrist, Ritchie, Watson and Mata, risking injury and burn-out for the 4 Scottish internationals in advance of the 6 Nations. If Saturday’s game is lost then expect to see teams similar to the one selected for Munster for the remaining Champions Cup matches, with the league becoming the sole objective.

    Cockerill has revived his profile at Edinburgh and could be gone at the end of the season if he feels the team aren’t getting the level of financial support he has been canvassing for.

    1. The SRU has a strict rotation policy and will not burn their assets out.

      How will you make your concerns known to the SRU ? They obviously feel it is ok but I sense Edinburgh fans feel taken for granted ? Unfortunatly the only thing you have the power to do is decide you will respond!

      As an aside , the Glasgow players took them on regarding bonus payments.The SRU are clearly no strangers to confrontation.

    2. Highland Bear, that is entirely my fear. Cockerill seems to be committed to getting Edinburgh as far as possible but he has no loyalty to Scotland and may eventually get tired of having to balance the requirements of the national team against his ambitions for the club if he feels that lip service only is being paid to those ambitions in terms of resources.

      1. I think Cockerill knew what he was getting into and is here for the duration of his project. He revived his reputation at Toulon before joining Edinburgh – having one half-decent season with a pro-14 club that won nothing isn’t a golden ticket to a bigger post!

        Frankly navigating second season syndrome is where he’s going to earn is wage and I really doubt he’s off anywhere in the near future.

  7. Brandon Thomson at Glasgow is Scotland Qualified, has shown great potential and is going to get limited game time at Glasgow with Hastings at 10.
    I don’t always understand the logic of player assignment and I’m sure Glasgow want a capable back up 10, but could he be better at Edinburgh?

  8. If that is really how you all feel stop moaning and do something.Players and coaches have no choice.You could stop attending or leave the ground early on mass.Let the TV Commentators do your protesting for you.I bet no one does !

    It is a bit toothless making a noise unless you are willing to back up your words with actions.I dont mean any personal offence ,I do hope some feel strong enough to move and take a positive action.

  9. Apparently B Thomson is not SQ , despite his Scottish father, because of the absurd rules about “ capture” etc., whereas guys with no Scottish relatives like Strauss, Sam Johnson are SQ. Apparently Duhan VDM can become SQ despite both him and Thomson being SA u20 internationals. No I don’t understand it either.
    Agree that Thomson would benefit from a run of games. But Edinburgh with Hickey and VDW? Maybe if P Horne stays at centre. That should maybe have happened last week v Cardiff.

  10. RICH :I just posted in wrong space .Relates to HB posts On Edinburgh injustices and Cockerell being starved of cash from the SRU.I take it the dots were impossible to join.

    My apologies to any one my poor use of tecnology however if we are prepared to tolerate spelling and grammar pedants (comment policy 10) I suspect we will tolorate techno numpties as well.

    Are you a disgruntled Edinburgh fan Rich?

    1. Grump, to be honest I was confused too and it’s my article. However thanks for clarifying. We Edinburgh supporters are a bit disgruntled and I think with good cause. The team haven’t been playing well enough and we have also had some issues to contend with that are not of our own making. Its easy to be blase about these things if your team are winning. It won’t help the team to not attend the games. We are few enough as it is.

You might also like these:

Craig is joined by Jonny and Rory to look back at the disappointing end to Edinburgh's season and Glasgow's march towards the semi finals.
Gregor Townsend has named a largely experimental squad for the summer tour of the Americas. It's not a question of who misses out, but rather who is actually going, writes Rory.
Iain is joined by Jonny and John to discuss the penultimate round of URC fixtures as well as the recent Scottish Rugby Writers' Awards
Craig is joined by John on the injured reserve list to have a wee look at the URC action from the weekend.

Scottish Rugby News and Opinion