Edinburgh may have been rightly lauded for bringing a Champions Cup quarter-final to Scotland on their return to elite European competition after a five year absence, but as they prepare to resume their bid to reach the knockout stage of the Pro14, there is an awareness that results against some of the weaker teams in the domestic competition have taken some of the sheen off that achievement.

It is self-evident that, all things being equal, reaching the final six in the Pro14 should be a much easier task than earning a place among the eight best teams on the Continent, but they are not. International calls and the need to manage the squad as a whole has a much bigger impact on Pro14 competitiveness and that is reflected in the losses suffered at the hands of Zebre ahead of the autumn Tests, against the Dragons immediately after it and, most recently, against the Southern Kings, all away from home.

That accounts for a third of the wins the weaker of the Italian franchises, worst of the Welsh regions and poorer of the South African provinces have accrued amongst them this season, bottom, second bottom and bottom of their respective Conferences as they are and that only highlights the scale of the danger confronting Edinburgh in the remainder of the Six Nations window.

After a two weekend lay-off, they return to action this weekend with the return meeting against the Dragons and that is followed by a visit from Cardiff, before they then head to Italy for what could be a key game between the teams currently in second spot (Treviso) and third in Conference B.

As they do so they are reflecting on the latest of those opportunities that got away, when a two score advantage was turned around in the closing stages of their meeting with the Southern Kings, the sin-binning of James Johnstone proving a turning point as the team that had only won one previous match this season, against Glasgow, completed a shock Scottish double.

There was a striking difference between the shape of those two matches, Glasgow allowing their hosts to run riot before clawing back some respectability, whereas Edinburgh looked to have ground out a win in conditions they are unused to in mid-season, before letting it slip and, in offering a typically blunt analysis, Cockerill did not accuse his players of having been complacent.

With his squad set to be strengthened by the return from injury of forwards Magnus Bradbury and Luke Crosbie, he warned, however, that they must not repeat those mistakes that did prove costly during a period that will again see them challenged by international demands.

“I don’t think we took the Kings for granted. We just made a mess of it,” he said.

“I think these three games coming up are pivotal for us. Everyone is very close. We had an opportunity at Kings to get one game’s distance between us and other teams and we didn’t take it. Dragons, Cardiff and Benetton are all vital games for the push for the top three. We can’t afford to slip up.

“We still have Ulster and Scarlets to play. We also have Leinster and Glasgow so there are some tough games to come.

“This weekend we’ll be pretty strong. Cardiff, who knows, because of what Scotland need. Then we go to Italy to play Benetton in a fallow week, but the attrition rate at the moment is hard. It is a very important three weeks for us.”

Earlier in the season Cockerill was out-spoken in registering his concern about the scheduling of Pro14 fixtures, notably when his team had to travel to three of the toughest teams in thecompetition in their first four fixtures, then again when they were given just a five day turn-around between visits to the Ospreys and Munster in the autumn.

However, for all that he reckons they are again being challenged by the timing, he acknowledged that they can have no real complaint about having to play this forthcoming sequence of matches without a full-strength squad, since Scotland’s dependence on a two-team set-up means organiser have to fit fixtures in somewhere.

“It’s just who you play in these periods. We always seem to get Dragons, who don’t lose a lot of players,” Cockerill observed.“Cardiff won’t lose as many as us, but we have two pro teams so we are pretty much going to be missing a forward pack through call-ups. It is what it is and we just have to get on with it.”

Now deep into his second season in the job and committed to staying until 2021, he did indicate that these may be considerations when he is looking to improve the depth of his squad moving forward.

“The Zebre game, Dragons game, Kings game, we need to be good enough to get more out of these games and that’s part of our development as a team, but also part of our recruitment moving forward,” he said.“We have to look at our areas of weakness in the international windows and we have to strengthen so that whoever Scotland pick we are not as affected as we have been this year.”