RICHARD COCKERILL says his Edinburgh team should hold their heads high after they fought back from a disastrous start to have French heavyweights Bordeaux-Begles on the ropes with 10 minutes to go before ultimately coming up short in yesterday’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final clash at Stade Chaban-Delmas.

 The head coach insisted that unlike the team’s last outing against Ulster in the play-offs of the PRO14 two weeks ago – when a commanding lead was thrown away during the final 20 minutes – this game demonstrated that the whole squad is indeed moving in the right direction.

 With several key players missing, his side showed huge character, and Cockerill argued that the intensity of the match meant the mistakes made were more forgivable.

“The effort and the composure we showed to get back in the game [from 14-0 down], be competitive and push to actually win the game was credit to all the players,” he said.

“You have to be careful and be realistic about where we’re at when we’re playing at this level in this company. Against Ulster, we should have won the game, we’re a good enough team and we didn’t deliver.

“Today, it was always going to be a tough task because they’re a very good side with very good players. Where Bordeaux sit, the budget they spend compared to our budget and how we go about our business, in some ways it’s poles apart. You’re not comparing apples with apples.

“We’re never going to accept losing – that’s a given – but the players who played in this game will have to learn from it. Guys like George Taylor, who had some bad moments and some very good moments, same with James Johnstone, same with Nick Haining, who drops the ball off that kick-off when it’s a six-point game. These things happen and pressure does that and a lot of these guys haven’t been in this arena for long. 

“We’re heading in the right direction: they were happy to get away with winning which is great for our guys and showed how much we have improved.

 “We’re not going out into the marketplace to spend another two or three million pounds to make the team better, because we just don’t have it. That’s the reality and it’s fine, as long as people understand it when we have days like today when we’re so near yet so far.”

 The build-up to this game was overshadowed by the news on Friday that a member of Edinburgh’s academy programme had tested positive to COVID-19 after breaking social distancing rules to attend a house party the previous weekend, but Cockerill insisted that this had no bearing on what happened on the team’s preparation.

 He did, however, make it clear that he was deeply unimpressed at the situation.

“It was no distraction to the performance today, but it was a distraction to me and people up the chain because we have to deal with the situation, which is disappointing,” he said. “I’m disappointed by the players’ behaviour. We live in a world where you can contract COVID-19 from anything, but as long as we’re all doing exactly what we say we’re going to do, working within the protocols both as general public and professional rugby players, if someone contracts it then that’s just life in the world we live in at the moment.

“The disappointing thing for me is that players involved knew exactly what they should and shouldn’t do, and they chose to do something they shouldn’t.

“Young men do what young men do and they’re going to have to learn that lesson. They’ve let down the whole team, simple as that. They know how they should behave, they know all the things that have been put in place to get games to be played and crowds in the stadium.

“It’s wrong, but it’s being dealt with. Thankfully there was no effect on the first team and we could come and play today but I’m not particularly happy with that type of behaviour.”

 Cockerill also had words of praise for winger Darcy Graham, who exhibited a remarkable combination of speed, agility, power, resilience and awareness to conjure Edinburgh’s only try of the match, which was scored by Damian Hoyland.

 “He’s a quality player and it was great work from him,” said Cockerill. “We’ve got some great quality and we’ve got to keep developing that, keep this team together and working hard on what we do.”