AS newcomers to the Heineken Champions Cup it was unimaginable when the draw was made in the summer that Edinburgh would top their pool at any stage, let alone after they had faced all of their rivals.

Yet, even as they suffered the expected defeat in their opening match in Montpellier, the pressure exerted on former Scotland coach Vern Cotter’s side in earning an important bonus point, served notice of what would come when Toulon and Newcastle Falcons visited the Scottish capital and suffered maximum-point defeats.

Edinburgh consequently now find themselves in a unique position as a Scottish side that leads a Champions Cup pool heading into the second half of the campaign. Pool five has been turned on its head in terms of pre-tournament expectations with three-time European champions Toulon at its foot, fellow French super-power Montpellier above them only on points differential and English Premiership representatives Newcastle Falcons tucked in behind the leaders who have surprised themselves when qualifying for the competition for the first time in five years.

All could yet be reversed since three bonus-point wins for Toulon could still see them finish top, but today’s matches may prove highly influential since victory for Edinburgh would put them in control, knowing they would only have to beat one of the two French teams in January to top the pool. This will, however, be no mean feat. A visit to Kingston Park to meet a Newcastle Falcons teams showing 11 changes to the one who lost and conceded a four-try bonus point in the Scottish capital nine days ago, represents a very different sort of challenge, as Edinburgh play-maker Jaco van der Walt acknowledged.

“This will be the normal Newcastle starting team, so we know it is going to be physical, it is going to be tough and we are quite prepared for that,” the 24-year-old South African said.

What he and his colleagues could not have been prepared for, at least prior to last weekend, was this occupation of pole position and the need to acquire the mindset necessary to fend off challenges from rivals they have already beaten. Given that stand-offs are the natural prey of marauding back-row forwards, van der Walt knows what is coming better than anyone in the Edinburgh camp, having had plenty experience of being hunted by the Falcon who makes his debut in this competition today.

John Hardie’s selection, just a few weeks after arriving in Newcastle in the season after he departed Edinburgh, has introduced an extra element to this tie and, while off-field issues may have blighted his time in the capital, on the pitch he has his former team-mates’ full respect.

“John always gives his everything, especially in training,” said van der Walt. “He is a tough bloke, just immense on the field, a good player and he is going to keep us on our toes.”

Maybe so, but however much insight Hardie offers a team that would have viewed Edinburgh as the group minnows when the draw was made, this is now a fixture the pool leaders must believe they are capable of winning.

Perhaps their biggest difficulty is the road sickness Edinburgh have suffered this season, visits to Swansea, to Belfast, to Montpellier and even to Parma and Newport having yielded not a single competitive win in the past three-and-a-half months. The one away win they have achieved this season was claimed at Kingston Park, albeit in a pre-season friendly, making this the closest thing to a home tie as they can be when playing away in the pool stages of the Champions Cup.

At that point, only the most deluded of Edinburgh supporters would have predicted that their season could be book-ended with another victory in “the Toon” when neighbouring St James’ Park hosts the Champions Cup final in May. When asked about that prospect, their head coach Richard Cockerill spluttered his amusement, before suggesting he might retire a happy man should that happen.

Yet, as Newcastle proved when winning in Toulon at the start of this campaign having lost all six Premiership matches, and as an Edinburgh side toiling in the Pro12 proved when reaching and nearly winning a Heineken Cup semi-final seven years ago, this is a competition in which strange things frequently happen.

Admittedly, Edinburgh lifting the trophy would surpass all that has gone before in that regard, but a win today would make the road back to Newcastle a great deal more navigable than anyone could have foreseen.