VETERAN prop WP Nel says he and his fellow senior players in the Edinburgh team have a responsibility to up their game during the two remaining games of this marathon 2020-21 season in order to help the emerging youngsters in the side show what they can do. 

 The capital outfit slumped to their second defeat to arch-rivals Glasgow Warriors inside the space of eight days at Murrayfield on Saturday night, and can have to real complaints about the outcome. If anything, the score-line flattered the hosts, given that their opponents failed to capitalise on at least three more gilt-edged try-scoring opportunities on top of the four that they took. 

 It is nine months into a gruelling and frustrating season played in front of empty stands, and there is nothing tangible at stake in the Rainbow Cup, but Nel says that neither factor should come into the reckoning when assessing the team’s recent performances. 

 “For most of the time we were probably on it, and for the time that we were off, Glasgow took their chances,” he reflected. “Sometimes they were just better than us and we need to go back and look at those small details that we need to work on.  

“We spoke to the boys and it's been quite a long season,” he continued. “Not everything has gone our way, and I think the boys are a bit flat at this moment, so I think we need come together to work out where we went wrong in the game, and then we need to work on those parts. We can't switch off at so many times, because as we saw against Glasgow, teams will take points.  

“I agree with what Cockers [head coach Richard Cockerill] said earlier in the week, that if we put on the jersey we play to win. Now there's probably nothing to play for in terms of play-offs or sliverware, but there are a lot of young boys that if they get the chance want to take any opportunities they get, so we senior guys can't just go through the motions. We want to give them the opportunity to play well.  

“I know it's been a tough season but there's still a lot for all of us and especially the young boys, to work on to get ready for next season,” he reiterated. 

In reality, it was not a particularly youthful team fielded by Edinburgh on Saturday night. Only second-row Marshall Sykes and stand-off Charlie Savala (both 21-years-old and both making only their second starts for the club) can be counted as novices amongst the starting XV. Coming off the bench, flanker Conor Boyle (aged 21 and with no starts yet) and winger Jack Blain (aged 21 with 12 starts) also comes into that category. The rest were seasoned professionals. 

Maybe it is time for Cockerill to revert the balance back towards youth, as happened on the opening weekend of this Rainbow Cup campaign, when academy prospects such as 19-year-old No8 Ben Muncaster and 20-year-old centre Matt Currie started, while 20-year-old scrum-half Roan Frostwick plus 18-year-old hooker Patrick Harrison got run-outs off the bench. Edinburgh won that game. 

“They’ve been brilliant in training and they bring a different energy to the game,” said Nel, when asked about the young players in the squad who have struggled to pick up game time anywhere else this season due to the Covid-enforced ban on all rugby below full-time professional level. 

“You can see they want to do well. They want to take chances. What they need now is game time. At their age, it's all about getting more game time so they can build the experience you need at this level. Hopefully, in the next two games they can get more opportunities to get that experience because that's how they become better players.   

For his part, Nel – who celebrated his 35th birthday at the end of last month – is not ready to hang up the boots quite yet, having recently signed a contract extension which will keep him in the capital for at least one more season. 

However, he did admit that the thought of taking it easy this summer, rather than getting involved in the national team’s schedule which includes an ‘A’ international against England and two Tests against Romania and Georgia, is quite appealing. 

“It's a bit too early to say but let's hope they take some of the young boys and give them some experience and leave the old boys at home,” he smiled.