Richard Cockerill says he won’t wrap his Lions in cotton wool during the remainder of the 2020-21 campaign, despite admitting that the season is now “dead” for Edinburgh with only three meaningless games left to play in the Rainbow Cup.

While Cockerill plans to use all three remaining matches as an opportunity to give emerging and fringe players game time, he still expects some of his senior men to play their part. He also thinks that it is important that Duhan van der Merwe, Hamish Watson and Rory Sutherland get some time in the saddle during the next month in order to maximise their chances of being at their best on the Lions tour.

Van der Merwe played but struggled to impose himself for Edinburgh during last Friday’s 1872 Cup defeat to Glasgow Warriors, while Hamish Watson is nursing a tight groin, and Sutherland is still four or five weeks away from match fitness after dislocating his shoulder whilst playing for Scotland against France at the end of March.

“Their job is to play rugby so I am not going to force anybody to do anything but that is what they signed up for,” said the coach. “I have two guys coming back from injury who want game time to be sharp, and Duhan has not played a huge amount of rugby this season so needs to play now to be in his best form in order to push for a spot in the Test team.

“So, if they are fit, healthy and available to play then they are available for selection like everybody else.”

The coach added that Sutherland remains on track to be fit in time to join up with the Lions in mid-June. “He is doing very, very well. He is getting better every day,” Cockerill explained. “Whether he sees any rugby with us before the end of the season remains to be seen but we are hopeful that will be the case.”

The capital outfit will play their inter-city rivals Glasgow Warriors for the second time in eight days and that sixth time since last August on Saturday evening, but with the 1872 Cup series wrapped up last weekend, the only thing at stake will be league-points in a one-off competition which was invented to access South African participation money but is of no real sporting value. Edinburgh then face Ulster at home on 5th June and Scarlets away on 13th June in matches which don’t even have the appeal of local bragging rights being at stake.

There is not much there to get the juices flowing, and the whole thing must feel like wading through treacle for the players, who have already endured a gruelling and largely ungratifying 10 months of rugby.

“It is a relatively contrived competition, isn’t it?” acknowledged the coach. “It has been a very difficult year with the South Africans not being able to travel, but it’s a good competition to get players some game time and keep them sharp for the summer.

“The season is dead for us, really,” he added. “But we have guys who are coming back from injury and there is a Scotland tour coming up and guys will want to put their hands up for that, notwithstanding there are three guys that need game time to keep themselves sharp for the British and Irish Lions. Those little motivations will keep guys playing and at this point we are still in the competition.

“Every time we play, we want to win so we will see where it takes us. We have some guys who have long term injuries, and some guys who need surgery to get themselves right for pre-season or a summer tour, but that means there are three more games for young players like Ben Muncaster, Conor Boyle, Charlie Savala and Nathan Chamberlain to be involved in. If they are fit, available and it is the right thing to play them then they will play. Matt Currie, too, should have recovered from his shoulder injury in time to play in the Ulster game.”