Greig Laidlaw will captain a new-look Edinburgh side for tomorrow night's trip to Magners League champions Munster, who are intent on replicating last season's cavalry charge towards title success, WRITES DAVID KELLY.
It was at this very stage last year that Tony McGahan's squad made their push for the title, picking up 14 of a maximum 15 points while their international players were on Six Nations duty -- and the Aussie coach is hoping for another major push over the next month.
He has seen Munster meander between 10th and second to date this season in their defence of the title they won by an eight-point margin last year. They are currently lying in fifth and set to move back into the play-off zone.
"It was a great idea to introduce the play-off system and Grand Final into the Magners League and there has definitely been an increase in intensity and standard this season," said McGahan.
"It is much harder to win on the road because every team is very strong at home; we discovered that on the opening day of the season at Glasgow Warriors and all five of our defeats to date have come away from home.
"The Scottish sides have really developed in recent seasons and become far more competitive and consistent. The Warriors are in a great position at the moment and should kick on from where they are.
"It has been a tough league season so far and it is only going to get harder. The third phase of the campaign, during the Six Nations, is very important and one in which we made good ground last season.
"Everything is so tight, with only eight points covering the top eight teams, and everyone is looking to knock their rivals out of the play-off zone," observed McGahan (pictured above).
"We all want a top-four finish and the new system means that every team will have something to play for right up to the end of the regular league season.
"Those final four rounds are going to be incredibly intense. Our eyes are firmly fixed on a top-two finish in order to secure a home semi-final.
"We put a lot of store on winning the Magners League title last year because we knew it would be a real test of the strength of our overall squad. The same will be true this season, but we then have the added spice of possibly competing in a knockout section."