Press Pass: MacRae excited for Euro challenge

Press Pass: MacRae excited for Euro challenge

Get the latest from Defence Coach Calum MacRae as he spoke with media to preview Saturday's Heineken Champions Cup opener against La Rochelle at BT Murrayfield.

On returning to the Heineken Champions Cup

“I think it’s really important to be back in the top tier of Europe because as a group we’ve been together for a few years and we’ve had runs against Montpellier and Toulon, similar teams to what we'll be facing this weekend against La Rochelle.

"It’s down to the consistency of our performances last season that we are now playing Champions Cup rugby. And that’s focus point - we need to get more consistency in our performances now that we’ve got the group back together and hopefully that will follow.

“If you’re not in the Champions Cup, you’re in the Challenge Cup and you do feel short-changed. Ultimately, we’re competitive as a club and as a group of people and we want to be testing ourselves against the best teams.

"In this competition we’ve done well in the past, so it’s about getting back to those standards and proving to ourselves again that we’re capable of performing.”

On facing French Top 14 leaders La Rochelle

“We’re in the Champions Cup again because of the performances we had last season. There have been challenges this season and the last few results haven’t gone as we would have hoped.

"But with a number of guys away there was an opportunity to blood a lot of younger players in that window. We were competitive for spells in those games but not consistently enough. But you have to take a bit of growth there from the guys coming in and hope you get the benefit in the longer term.

"The guys coming back from the national squad are transitioning back in. We have certain refocus points for the Test players to meet albeit it’s not a complete sea change in terms of strategy. But there are one or two points that we put a premium on that we need to refocus on so that we can get everyone on the same page.”

On playing European rugby with no home support

“One of the biggest short-changed moments I’ve felt in my coaching career so far was you get a home play-off and you’re playing in front of an empty BT Murrayfield.

“Having watched a number of the games this year, I think it brings it back to a far more level playing field in that respect. The hoodoo of the away fixture is taken away a wee bit.

“I think that surge of energy that the crowd gives the home team, that naturally has a knock-on effect for the performance of the home team. It has been strange. We’ve had some big fixtures, everyone gets pumped up for the game, and then you’re running out to a pin dropping. It’s quite an eerie prospect.

“It’s good to see numbers picking up. I saw there were some folk in the stand at the England game, for example, and that’s only a good thing: one, for the confidence of people to get back to support the game, but also for any player the biggest moment in your career is when you’re playing in front of a passionate crowd. That’s always going to be a factor, in my opinion.

“Objectively we just have to make sure we prepare well this week and control the things that we can control around our performance, to put a really strong performance out there with the international players back this week.”

On internationalists returning

"Obviously, we had the rest week a couple weeks ago because of the Fiji game been cancelled. That means that was a down week and therefore as far as I am aware all players who are fit are available for this week.

"I'm not in the circle of that dialogue regarding players returning. There would be one to ask Cockers. The head coaches of the point of contact with the national team. As an assistant I'm just aware of the players when they are back and the technical areas I need to focus on."

On Gilchrist and key players returning from injury

"Grant is still a few weeks away, three or four weeks now. He is progressing well and it is just that balancing act. We obviously want back because he is an influential player, but we want to make sure he is absolutely ready to go.

"In the medical meeting this morning the medics were saying how they were really happy with how he is progressing. He is diligent as always and we are looking forward to him returning. Potentially, that will be for the Dragons game in three of four weeks time. Glasgow before that would be a bonus. We have to be patient about his return to play.

"Ben Toolis and Hamish Watson are good to go. Both players were flying about in training and it's good to have them back. Ben is a bit light on game time so he will be looking forward to getting back into an Edinburgh shirt and playing rugby again."

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