After an autumn Test series in which he established himself as a serious contender to go to next year’s World Cup, Jamie Ritchie knows there will be new expectations of him on his return to action for Edinburgh at a crucial stage in their season.

Competing in the Champions Cup for the first time in five years, the capital’s professional team has given itself a real chance of progress to the knockout stages if the English Premiership’s bottom side Newcastle Falcons can be overcome home and away, while the second half of the month could see them retain the 1872 Challenge Cup should they beat Glasgow Warriors in both legs of another double header.

To win all four matches would be a tall order, but having had some time off to reflect on the challenge of involvement in four Test matches on successive weekends in November, starting three of the four and coming off the bench against the Springboks, Ritchie feels well prepared.

“It was kind of a whirlwind experience being involved in every game and playing my first game at Murrayfield in front of a sell-out crowd,” said the flanker, who wore both the number six and seven shirts in the course of the campaign.

“That was all pretty cool, emotionally tiring and obviously physically tiring playing every week. It was amazing, but it was nice to get away from all that, get away from rugby for a while, spend a bit of time with my kids who have not seen as much of me in the last five-six weeks as they probably would have liked. get away, relax a wee bit, recover and hopefully be ready for the next couple of weeks, good to go.”

The challenge for the 22-year-old is to maintain the form which earned him excellent reviews throughout those Tests and he knows exactly how difficult that will be since, one way or another, he will be facing new and old comrades throughout December.

Familiarity is, of course, inevitable when it comes to the Scottish derbies, however Newcastle’s back-row is likely to contain Gary Graham, who has now committed to the land of his birth after being called into the squad last month following a flirtation with England earlier in the year and, for all that he is not in their Champions Cup squad, Friday’s opponents also have the knowhow of John Hardie, the Scotland international who was with Edinburgh before departing under something of a cloud last season, to call upon.

“The first time I met Gary was in the autumn window. He is a nice bloke and it will be good to see Hards again. I have not seen him since he has been away,” said Ritchie.

Both are well-travelled, battle-hardened professionals and, even if he does not have to engage directly in a pupil-versus-master encounter against a player he clearly respects, Ritchie acknowledges that Hardie’s involvement in the Newcastle camp can give the home side additional insight ahead of these key matches.

“Hards knows a bit about us so it will be a tough challenge,” he said.

“He helped me a lot in parts of my game and, even when he was injured at the end of last season, he would still offer me advice.

“He is a humble bloke, nice to everyone. Even when I was a wee bit younger he was always good to me.”

Principally signed to provide injury cover, it seems far from coincidental that after the disappointment of losing on debut, Hardie has helped a team that had previously won just one of seven English Premiership matches beat both Bath and Northampton over the past two weekends, but before he arrived there had been a stark contrast between their domestic form and in Europe, where they had beaten French giants Toulon and Montpellier on successive weekends.

That has put them top of a pool that has so far been turned on its head as compared with pre-tournament expectations, Edinburgh also having played their part in bringing that about, as Ritchie observed when outlining the optimism generated within the camp.

“We were unlucky not to win in Montpellier, we had opportunities to do so and if we had had a different rub of the green might have won,” he observed.

“We came away with a losing bonus point, which is almost like a five point swing if we can win at home.

“We played really well against Toulon before the Autumn and were delighted to get five points against them as well. We have to back that up in January when we go over there. We are sitting in a good spot in Europe and are looking to get out of the group.”