EDINBURGH will bid a fond farewell to BT Murrayfield tonight when they take on Ulster in their final home game before they move into their own new mini-stadium next door. 

But head coach Richard Cockerill admits that he will look back with anything but fondness on what has been a very trying season for the capital club.

The pandemic has brought similar difficulties for all the teams in the PRO14, but the Scottish sides were more badly affected by an extended international window in which they were deprived of most of their key players. Glasgow have at least enjoyed a reasonable run of recent form in the Rainbow Cup, but, after several seasons of significant progress since Cockerill’s arrival, Edinburgh have struggled to find any consistency.

The problems confronting the head coach have continued this week, too, with news that one player had tested positive for Covid-19 meaning that four others have had to self-isolate. Little wonder, then, that Cockerill is looking forward to rounding off the current
campaign with this match followed by a visit to Scarlets on Sunday week - and then putting the whole thing behind him, never to be thought of again. 

“I’m not going to miss this season at all,” he said yesterday after naming his team to face Ulster, who like their hosts have no chance of reaching the Rainbow Cup final. “I’ll be glad when it’s finished and we can start again. Hopefully we will start with a clean slate and the problems we’ve had this year will be gone.

“We’ve yet to see that from a Covid point of view. From a season point of view, the season will be constructed very differently, with the South Africans coming in and potentially no clashes with international weekends and all those other things. So I’m hoping that I never think about this season ever again.

“Murrayfield is a great stadium so I’m not happy to be leaving Murrayfield, but next year we’ll be starting in a new stadium, so it will be a new start for us in lots of ways. This year has been difficult, there’s no mistaking that, and we need to press the reset button
in the summer and we need to revisit some of the things that have made the club so good in the first three years of being together.”

Cockerill has made ten changes to his starting line-up from the one that began the defeat by Glasgow last month, and welcomes back four Scotland internationals: Jamie Ritchie, Ben Toolis, and British & Irish Lions Hamish Watson and Duhan van der Merwe. The coach has also handed a debut to full-back Harry Paterson, while forward Harri Morris and back Cammy Hutchison will also make their first appearances if they come off the bench.

With the Lions assembling in Jersey next weekend, this will be the final game before the tour for Watson and Van der Merwe, while it is a first outing in five months for Toolis, who has been out with a foot injury. The team’s other Lion, Rory Sutherland, is one
of 23 players named as unavailable for this match as he completes his recovery from a dislocated shoulder, but the good news for the prop is that he is now just over a week away from being able to play.

“Hamish has been rehabbing a groin issue that has cleared itself up, and Duhan has always got little niggles,” Cockerill continued. “They didn’t play the last game, they would prefer not to play in the Scarlets game because we play on a Sunday and they [the Lions] meet up on a Sunday and they’ll be training on the Monday. So it makes sense they both play now, because they’re fit and they need game time.

“They don’t want to be undercooked. There were discussions over what’s best and making sure they’re in the best position to go to the Lions and are ready to put their best foot forward to get in the Test team.

“Rory is still not quite ready to play. He’s probably a couple of days away from starting against Scarlets. I think he’ll arrive in Jersey fully fit and ready to participate in all training and playing.”