AFTER a seven-year stretch of serious underachievement, Edinburgh at last began to do themselves justice last season, reaching the PRO14 play-offs at the first time of asking under Richard Cockerill. It was a pleasure and a relief to see them play with unaccustomed conviction, an attribute that helped them win a number of tight games which in the past they would have lost in forlorn fashion.

As he looks ahead to the game at Ospreys on Friday that begins his second season at the helm, however, Cockerill has warned that the hard work has only just begun, and there can be no room for self-satisfaction. Yes, coming third in their conference was a significant improvement compared to that lengthy spell in which they finished no higher than eighth in the old PRO12, and their 23-13 victory at Newcastle on Friday will also have instilled confidence. But the head coach is convinced that his young and still

relatively inexperienced squad have a lot more to offer. Provided, that is, they continue to have the right attitude.

“We need to make sure our work ethic remains at the same level as last year,” Cockerill said. “Back then, we were at a low ebb and hard work was the bare minimum. We think we have a better squad now, and a more balanced squad, but that doesn’t mean we’ll just take our foot off the gas and expect things to happen for us. We have to work just as hard, as well as improving our leadership and game management.

“In the quarter-final away at Munster, we lost by four points. We probably turned the ball over four or five times – and that’s where there’s opportunities to win the game. We need to be better in those pressure moments. In games against Cardiff and Ulster, when we needed to win, we weren’t quite composed enough or good enough in those big moments.

“We’ve made huge strides forward, but we’re still nowhere near where we’d like to be. The reality is that, in those big moments, we haven’t quite had the composure to get over the line.”

As well as expecting his younger players to be more mature this time round, Cockerill has made some astute signings with a view to improving the team’s self-possession. John Barclay may be out of action until the new year following Achilles surgery, but the fight for a back-row place will still be extremely competitive. Behind the pack, Henry Pyrgos and Simon Hickey can be expected to steer the ship well from half-back, while the return of Matt Scott provides a greater cutting edge at centre.

“We think we have a better squad, but we still have to get the best out of them as a group,” Cockerill added. “We’re better at No 10 in terms of depth and quality. Blair Kinghorn being a year older and more experienced will also be really good for us. We have good strength in the midfield.

“We are perhaps a little bit short of real, out-and-out quality in the back three, but we have a budget and we have to strengthen what we believe are the most important positions.

“There has been a lot of change, and it will take a little bit of time for the new players to bed in. Hopefully this time next year there will only have been two or three changes rather than 16.

“We’re only one year into what is a new team and a new mentality. We’ve had one half-decent season out of the past eight. That’s just the reality, so we have to just keep a lid on it and not get too excited. I want us to be optimistic and look forward to what we’re doing, but there’s no guarantees with this group at the moment. We’re still fairly early on our journey together.”

The coach is known for his fierce work ethic, but his attention to detail is argu-ably just as important. Hooker Stuart McInally, newly appointed as captain, offered one example of that from Cockerill’s earliest days in charge of the team.

“It was so clear what a successful club should look like and he just pinpointed little things, for example getting a throwing coach,” McInally said. “For him it was like, ‘You don’t have a throwing coach –what do you mean?’ He’s been so used to, in his career, just having access to everything possible to help us get better.

“So Simon [Hardy] came in and helped me, and that’s just one example of him trying to build a club and a culture where it’s all just geared towards making us as good as possible. I didn’t really understand the need for a throwing coach until last year.”