Richard Cockerill is not a man who expends significant amounts of time and effort in navel gazing. So as the Edinburgh coach looks ahead to Saturday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final against Top 14 high-flyers Bordeaux, he’s not allowing himself to get hung up on the four winner-takes-all defeats his side have suffered in his time at Murrayfield. His philosophy is a simple one: if you take a battering ram to the castle gates often enough, eventually they will splinter.
“Am I worried?” he said when asked about his team’s habit of losing big games. “No, not really. I just think, clearly, we’ve got to get better. We’re a team that’s never won a trophy. We’re 140-odd years old and we haven’t won a trophy yet, so we’re busting our balls to make that happen. But we’re not there yet, are we?
“So we just need to keep working hard and understanding more and keep developing the players we have and keep adding to the squad as the seasons go by. It’s as simple as that. There’s no excuse, apart from we need to be better, we need to keep working at it, I need to make sure as a coach that they keep improving and I keep improving. We’ve just got to keep knocking at the door.”
Cockerill characterises earlier knockout losses against Cardiff and Munster (twice) as “shots to nothing” but there is no doubt that last week’s Pro14 semi-final loss at home against Ulster really rankles. It is not so much the loss but the nature of the defeat which he finds difficult to take. After Edinburgh started as favourites with the bookies, they surrendered a seven-point lead in the last 15 minutes, their indiscipline allowing Ian Madigan to put Ulster in the final with the last kick of the game.
“The Ulster game, make no bones about it, was one going into that we were good enough to win, and which we expected to win,” said Cockerill. “At the very least we expected to turn up and perform and do what we said we were going to do, which we didn’t.”
Edinburgh are now on another shot to nothing against a side which they played twice at the pool phase of this competition, but have so far not beaten. At Murrayfield, the Frenchmen came from behind to draw 16-16, and in Bordeaux they won by two scores. Since then, however, Bordeaux-Begles’ form has been impressive and had the lockdown not happened they could well have won the Top 14.
Yet for all that, Cockerill believes that Edinburgh are able to win at the Stade Chaban-Delmas, where Christophe Urios’ side boast a formidable record. Although Bordeaux are the equivalent of Premiership side Exeter Chiefs – organised and superbly coached, with incredible strength in depth but few household names – if Edinburgh are unshackled by low expectations, and can avoid the poor options and silly mistakes that constantly gifted Ulster field position at Murrayfield, they can spring an upset.
“Bordeaux are a very organised team with a lot of very good players, but we are good enough to compete with them,” said the Edinburgh coach. “The draw at Murrayfield was a fair result and we probably didn’t understand how good this Bordeaux team are when we went away from home – there were two or three key moments when they got in front on the scoreboard and overpowered us.
“But we have a slightly different team in the second and back row this weekend compared to then so it is going to be an interesting afternoon, a real test of character for us. We have to step up and learn something about ourselves on Saturday afternoon.”
More than anything, on an afternoon when it is expected to be sunny and 28 degrees, Edinburgh must play without the fear which undermined them against Ulster. They need to stick to their expansive game, just take better options.
“We should play exactly the same, but if you are leading 12-0 and under your own sticks, do you need to force the game?” asked Cockerill. “I’m still happy for us to counterattack off turnover ball but away from home against a big French side we can’t over-play and waste our energy. Maybe this weekend we won’t be favourites so we just go and play and anything is a bonus. Maybe we play with a little less fear and we don’t worry.”