Sunday 21 April 2019

Edinburgh hoping UK record crowd will push them on against Munster

Richard Cockerill. Photo: Sportsfile
Richard Cockerill. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

We asked the Edinburgh lads how many they are expecting through the gate at Murrayfield on Saturday.

A stadium of that size and a lunchtime kick-off? Not the ideal building blocks if you're putting together what you hope will be a special day, but with over 30,000 tickets sold by last week they are on track for a record UK attendance for a quarter-final.

This is only the second time in 18 attempts for Edinburgh to get into the knockouts of Europe's premier competition. They've had a high enough profile in three of the last four Challenge Cups - they lost to Gloucester in the final in 2015 - but this is massive for them. And it will suit coach Richard Cockerill's narrative that it's European heavyweights Munster who are coming to town.

He has transformed the club since arriving in summer 2017. Having run out of road in Leicester he was long odds to make a big impact in Scotland, but it's been big enough for England's Nigel Melville to publicly name-check him as being on the shortlist for Eddie Jones' job when that becomes vacant.

Cockerill has done it by copying and pasting some of the stuff that made the Tigers once very good - a bullying forward pack - and by getting the most out of a handful of overseas players who have delivered in style. Wing Duhan van der Merwe is on a par with James Lowe as the best finisher in the Pro14; outhalf Jaco van der Walt makes him look even better with the quality of ball he gets to him out wide; while up front they have - would you believe it - two South Africans (WP Nel is now naturalised) at prop and the outstanding Bill Mata at number eight.

So how are they mid-table in Conference B? Because their away form is so ordinary. That won't be an issue on Saturday as flanker James Ritchie points out, helpfully.

"I doubt it," he says. "I think we struggled during the Six Nations period which has put us under a bit of pressure at the end of the season. Historically we have done well. When we beat Racing home and away (in 2011/'12) we still had some squeaky wins but if you look at our form in Europe (this season) we've played well every game.

"We won comfortably against Toulon at home and we won comfortably against Toulon away. We won comfortably against Newcastle home and away, and we were comfortable at home against Montpellier - and we could have won away."

The only time they have experienced serious discomfort at home this season was when they somehow managed to blow a 17-0 lead against Cardiff and lose 17-19 last month.

"We let that one slip," Ritchie says. "Our form at home apart from that Cardiff game has been outstanding."

Leinster put that to the test on Friday night and came up short. Ritchie is likely to return to a fine back-row where John Barclay now is in the mix, and Grant Gilchrist will probably slot in to the second-row for Fraser McKenzie, who started against Leinster and could have been sent off for a dangerous clean on Noel Reid. The loss of Blair Kinghorn, however, is a huge blow.

As for their opponents, the default position with Munster has been as follows: if the planets align to give them a decent return on the injury front, with a game-plan that allows them play, then they can do damage to anyone.

Munster are in good nick and Johann van Graan will have lots of firepower at his disposal, including Joey Carbery. As for Edinburgh, we'll wait and see if the disconnect between the quality of ball they get off set-piece and what their attack does with it can be turned into a killer combination.

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