AS the dust settled on the penultimate round of matches in the regular season of the URC on Saturday night, it became apparent that both Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors had qualified for the play-offs despite losing their respective matches, courtesy of Scarlets also coming up short against the Ospreys. 

However, the desire to have all participating territories represented in the European Champions Cup means that the top ranked Welsh team will take the URC’s eighth qualifying slot for that competition even though they have failed to finish in the top eight. 

That means it is now a shoot-out between Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors – who are currently ranked seventh and eighth in the table, on the same number of league points – to decide who will play in the top tier of European competition next season and who will end up in the second tier Challenge Cup. 

The two Scottish sides face each other at Murrayfield in the final round of the regular season on 21st May, and as well as Champions Cup qualification being on the line, there is also the small matter of who claims the 1872 Cup this year – with Edinburgh needing to overturn a 13-point deficit from the first leg played at Scotstoun back in March. These matches are always tense and tetchy affairs, and this one will be no different. 

“I said to the guys before this match that our destiny is in our own hands and that's the way we still see it,” said Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair after his team’s defeat to Ulster on Saturday evening.  “Glasgow will be a big game and I reckon we can get an incredible crowd. It is the last regular game of the season and there is so much to play for. 

As for the play-offs, Edinburgh (and Glasgow) cannot now make the top four so are facing a trip  to either Dublin, Limerick, Belfast or South Africa, depending on how the final round of matches play out. All tough missions, but Blair insisted that his team have nothing to fear. 

“You get to a certain stage of the competition when you potentially become underdogs, but you give yourself a chance,” he explained. “That's all we wanted to do – give ourselves a chance and stay in the fight.  

“We've got ourselves into the play-offs and we've got a couple of big games before that. It has been a really enjoyable season so far – we are learning lots of lessons and predominantly we are doing that while winning games, which is great.  

“The big lesson out of this weekend is how to be ruthless with opportunities, but also how to be squeaky clean around our discipline and not just give unforced penalties away.” 

However, the most immediate challenge facing Edinburgh is their Challenge Cup quarter-final clash against Wasps at the DAM Health Stadium next Saturday lunchtime – and Blair could have an issue at hooker after Stuart McInally suffered a calf injury on Saturday night and Dave Cherry hurt his arm (but bravely played on for the final 30 minutes whilst clearly in considerable pain). 

“Dave Cherry was outstanding – I can't believe he stayed on because we thought he had broken his arm,” said Blair. “We told him to stay on the edge after he had thrown the ball in at the line-out but he seemed to have a magnet on the ball.  

“I thought his attitude and performance was typical of what we are trying to create at the club, with guys doing everything for the jersey.”  

Blair will find out the full extent of Cherry and McInlly’s injuries tomorrow, and it is a similar situation with centre James Lang, who suffered a knee injury in the first minute of Saturday night’s game. 

“I thought we did some good stuff in the first half to create opportunities and we probably missed three clear-cut chances there,” added Blair, reflecting on the Ulster game, “On the flipside, we allowed Ulster to piggyback their way up the field. I think there were three or four penalties in a row, giving Ulster the opportunity to put pressure on us – and they did. 

“They are a pressure side with their driving maul. They had a couple of good instances in attack, but we let them into the game. 

“So, unfortunately, we came up short. It wasn't through lack of effort – in fact it might have been too much effort because we were not quite composed enough. We were trying to do something every time we had the ball.”