A SEASON that ended in double disappointment for Edinburgh also produced some proof that they continue to make progress, according to Damien Hoyland. The winger scored his team’s only try in their Challenge Cup quarter-final defeat by Bordeaux on Saturday, and, while not trying to minimise the mistakes that were made, insisted that both that game and the PRO14 semi-final defeat by Ulster two weeks previously demonstrated that the team is improving.

“The thing we can take from this, and we took it from [Ulster], is that we are on the up,” Hoyland said. “From these two games, there are a lot of things we’re going to be better at. And going into next season we’ll be gunning for it, and we know what works. 

“That was 100 per cent one of the toughest games I’ve been involved in because of the heat,” he continued. “And our game plan is based around working really hard. Credit to the boys, because we all worked really hard for the full 80 minutes. And if we can play like that in that sort of temperature” - it was around 30 degrees in the Stade Chaban-Delmas - “then I’m sure we can play even better when it’s minus three or whatever in Scotland.” 

Hoyland’s upbeat mood may have been influenced in part by the fact that he scored that try in the 23-14 loss, and indeed that he had been included in the starting line-up as a replacement for the injured Duhan van der Merwe. But it was noticeable that Richard Cockerill too, after being irate in the wake of the Ulster defeat, was inclined to emphasise the positive aspects of this last match of the 2019-20 campaign.

Having previously declared that the team had not made as much progress as he had thought, the head coach said on Saturday that “we have to be really careful and realistic about where we are”. Without a big budget to bolster his squad, Cockerill has to get the best out of his current crop of players, and knows that constantly berating them for making mistakes can be counter-productive. 

And in this case, it was not as if he had to point out to his players the things that had gone wrong. An error-strewn opening which began when Bill Mata dropped the kick-off saw Edinburgh go 14-0 down after ten minutes, which to an extent made the fightback all the more commendable. On the other hand, the game ended in frustration, as they knew they had had a chance right up to the closing minute of snatching an improbable victory. 

“It’s a funny one,” Hoyland agreed. “We gave them an early start but then did all the right things to give ourselves the best chance to win the game, and it is way more frustrating when you do that then come up short. 

“In some respects we were unlucky, but with the amount of mistakes we made against a top-five team in Europe, they were going to punish us. It is bitterly disappointing in many respects because we were in with a chance: we had done the right things and we had the right game strategy, and we were so close. 

“We never felt like the game was getting away from us, and it is that fighting spirit – and this team will always have that – so it is just about executing those fine margins and cutting down the mistakes. But we are completely confident about being capable of winning big games. Errors happen and Bordeaux did really well to capitalise on our mistakes.

“People drop the ball. The best player in the world will drop the ball. There’s no point looking into that too deeply, because mistakes will happen.  

“But I think we stuck to our game strategy really well. We created some really good opportunities and on another day we would finish those opportunities. I can’t fault the effort from the boys.” 

In their fourth game back after the resumption, Edinburgh certainly looked fit enough, and should be in a good place physically and mentally when the new season begins at the end of next week. They will have a short break in the first part of this week as no more than token recognition that one campaign has just ended, and then they will be back at work, preparing for a long and attritional 2020-21 season.

“We’re definitely ready,” Hoyland insisted. “The boys are fit. We’ve trained really hard and there’s not been that much rugby played, so we’ll take a few days off now, and given the last couple of results we are desperate to get back to winning ways. We just want to right some wrongs and show everybody how good a team we can be.”