Cockerill "I'm enjoying the ride, but I want us to keep going."
Edinburgh’s long and proud rugby history has conjured up very few opportunities than the one Richard Cockerill and his players have grafted so hard to create this coming Friday against French giants Montpellier at BT Murrayfield (Friday 18 January, kick-off 7.45pm).
It’s been seven long years since Scotland’s capital club qualified for the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals, and now the club has a chance to secure a place in the knock-out stages once more - again with home advantage - and Head Coach Richard Cockerill is very much up for the fight.
“When we’ve got ball in hand, we can cause some damage. We’re going to go and play, we’re going to run a big team around and we’re going to have a crack because that’s the only way to beat them.
“Are we good enough [to beat them]? I’ve no idea. Are we going to go and see if we are? Bloody right we are. We’re going to go and play our best and we’re going to give it a crack. If they’re better than us and we play our best, then fair play to them, but we’ll see.”
Ever the underdog, that expectation is a relatively new experience for this Edinburgh squad, and one which Cockerill wants them to learn from no matter the result on Friday.
“We’re under pressure and I want to see how we react to that. The only way for us to learn is to play these games. We might fall flat on our faces and lose, but that’s sport.
“The only way for us to develop as a team, to learn as individuals and for young players to get experience is to do these things. It might be a really good experience, it might be a really poor experience, but it’s going to be an experience. I want us to put it out there - that’s the game and that’s how I want us to approach it.
“I’m not sure we’re meant to win, but we’re going to go out there, gumshields in, sleeves rolled up and we’re going to get in the middle of it and see where we get to.
Although Cockerill is piling the pressure on his team to deliver on the biggest of stages, the underdog tag is one that he remains reluctant to surrender just yet.
“Do we expect to win? I’m not sure we expect to win. Do people expect us to win, I’m not sure. But we’re in a contest, aren’t we?
“You look at their squad list and it’s pretty impressive isn’t it? But I like to think that when you look at our squad list, it’s pretty impressive too and there’s some really good players there.
“It’s sport, it’s meant to be fun. People will come and watch and be really interested because nobody knows what’s going to happen – I’m the coach and even I don’t know what’s going to happen – so let’s enjoy it. This is where we want to be, and we want to test ourselves and see if we’re good enough. I want to back our guys - we’re playing to win.”
The belief to get an historic result over Toulon at the Stade Mayol last weekend may have come from six months coaching the three-time European Champions two season ago, but Cockerill has again done his homework and has identified a chink in Montpellier’s armour – their away form.
“They’ve won one of their last 13 away European games and that was at Glasgow. All the pressure will be on them – they’re the A-listers. They’ll have expectation to get out of this group.
“We’re finding some confidence and we’re developing and maturing as a team. It’s just about winning on Friday, so we’ve got to make sure we get our systems right.”
Asked where a victory on Friday, and the security of a home quarter-final, would rank in his coaching career, his answer was more poignant for what is building at this club than what it would mean for him personally.
“It would be a good achievement for everybody here - it’s not just me, but the backroom staff and the players. We’re building an environment where we have solid infrastructure where we can build year-on-year.
“We’re getting the best out of this group of players - that’s the key part. We’re surprising ourselves really. This is a new adventure for me as well as a coach and I’m enjoying the ride, but I want us to keep going.”
Edinburgh’s chances of a first qualification since 2012 are in their own hands, and a win on Friday night would pocket a home quarter-final. What a ride it’s proving to be.