LEINSTER PREVIEW | Cockerill: "It will be a test for us mentally."

Ahead of Friday night’s pivotal Guinness PRO14 clash against Leinster at Myreside (kick-off 7.35pm), Edinburgh Head Coach Richard Cockerill stressed the importance of the fixture in the overall context of the season, but was quick to identify how tough a test the Irish powerhouse present.

Leinster come into this weekend’s bout in second place in Conference B and trail reigning champions Scarlets by just two points, whilst Edinburgh haven’t suffered a home defeat since September’s loss to Benetton Rugby.

“This block of four games is going to be crucial for us,” explained the Head Coach. “We’ve got to knock some big teams over. We’re missing a few but we’re not hit as badly as they are.

“It will be a test of us mentally. We’re missing a few senior guys with the [Scotland] test team but we’ve played pretty well across the squad this year.  If we can survive from a set-piece point of view – our scrum has been under a bit of pressure with guys missing across the board – then we’ll be ok.

“It’s going to be a tough four weeks. There’s a long way to go yet and a lot to play for.”

Edinburgh will be without several internationalists this weekend as Scotland gear up to face France at BT Murrayfield in the second round of the NatWest 6 Nations. However, Cockerill was optimistic that he could have a number of returning stars at his disposal.

“Mark Bennett will train with Scotland this week. As will Blair Kinghorn, Magnus Bradbury, Simon Berghan, Neil Cochrane and Murray McCallum. But, scrum-half Nathan Fowles is back here with Edinburgh.

“Hamish Watson and Cornell du Preez are away and we’re a little bit short at second-row because Callum Hunter Hill hurt his knee playing for Newcastle, so he’s not going to be available – so we’re a lock short.

“Bill Mata or Magnus Bradbury will step into those boots, which gives us another back-row to come into the squad, so John Hardie will probably get his chance at the weekend.”

Hardie – who suffered a facial injury whilst turning out for BT Premiership side Hawick a fortnight ago – is available for selection this weekend and Cockerill emphasised his importance down the stretch.

“John Hardie is with us. He basically smashed his lip up but he’s good to go and hopefully he’ll be involved on Friday.

"He’s an experienced player and he’s very tough and physical, so if john is available and fit – which he is – it would be sensible to get him back playing.”

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