RICHARD Cockerill believes the time is right for his players to deliver on their burgeoning promise on Saturday against Ulster and win through to their first PRO14 final. The Edinburgh coach has taken his team to the quarter-finals in both the league and the Challenge Cup in his three years in charge, but the Murrayfield match at the weekend will be his first semi-final with the side.

With just about a full squad to choose from, Cockerill thinks his players now have the experience required to do well in big games. However, he does not expect an easy game against Ulster, who qualified as Conference A runners-up while his own team finished top of Conference B.

“I think Saturday night is the time for us to step up and show what we are about,” he said. “Because of the players’ experience with a quarter against Munster and the experience of Test-match rugby there comes a natural point when they have to step up.

“Let’s go out there and show what we’re about. There are no excuses for us not delivering on Saturday night. 

“If we play our best game we can win. If we both turn up and play our best game it’s 50/50. It will be a bounce of the ball, a moment of brilliance, in all tight games that decide it. I don’t want us just to be happy to be here if we lose and think it’s an OK season. We have to have bigger ambition than that.”

In the past, the hard competitive edge needed to prevail in big games has often been identified as the one vital ingredient missing from Edinburgh’s make-up. But there is no tougher competitor than Cockerill, and since coming to Scotland in 2017 he has gradually instilled his own qualities into the team. This season in particular has seen Edinburgh play a more self-confident and expansive game, and, while the coach remains well aware of the received wisdom which says that the first trophy is always the hardest to win, he is certain that the squad have made sustained and significant progress.

“We have changed it a bit here,” he continued. “We have won big games, but when it really matters we need to make sure we deliver on all the things we’ve done in the last three years, the things that have made us good.

“All the basic stuff around our game, the set piece, our defence, making some good decisions at the right time. If that is to run the ball from under our own sticks then we will. If not we won’t force it. We will make the right game to win knockout rugby. 

“It does not have to be fancy or flash. We just have to play how we can to win the game. When teams are evenly matched you need to do the basics well. We have to make sure we don’t lose our bottle, make sure we don’t blink first, and when opportunities arise we take them and we minimise the opportunities for the opposition.

“We have to perform and we have to get it right. Semi-finals and finals are all about the result. Edinburgh have never won a trophy, so clearly we haven’t dealt with it particularly well in the past. 

“It’s about knowing how to play knock-out rugby and not playing an exhibition. At the pressure moments we need to deliver. Those tiny moments make the difference and [let’s] not worry too much about history.”

Having insisted that his players are mentally stronger and more mature now, however, Cockerill attempted to take some of the pressure off them by insisting that Ulster would be favourites on Saturday. “They have won the competition before, they are in the Champions Cup quarter-finals against Toulouse and they are the club with all the history of being successful - so surely that makes them favourites. 

“The pressure is on them. They are the team that should deliver. They are a team that should expect to beat Edinburgh. I would think there is more pressure on Ulster to win than us. The only pressure we have is from ourselves internally. There is a lot of pressure on Ulster to deliver, because they are Ulster and they expect success.”