Plotting a route to the 2019 playoffs – Edinburgh

There has been plenty of festive cheer for Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh. Double double header success in December against Newcastle and Glasgow has put the capital club in a strong position to progress to the knockout stages of both the Champions Cup and the PRO14. League business is the focus here as On Top Of The Moon tries to calculate the optimum route to the playoffs for Edinburgh.

Crucial point – there are essentially only 2 available slots for the post season in Conference B with Leinster already 16 points clear with 9 games remaining. In fact unless (most likely) Munster or the Warriors can knock over the reigning champions in Dublin it’s probably sensible to ink Leinster in for the final in Glasgow in May! Practically speaking that leaves Edinburgh, Ulster, Scarlets and Benetton chasing 2nd and 3rd. So how do the four contenders stack up?

Ulster – currently 2nd on 33 points

Home games remaining – 4 out of 9

Games v top 3 sides * – 3
Games v bottom 4 sides ** – 3
Games v other playoff contenders *** – 3

Average points collected by remaining opponents – 31.0

Biggest issue – a brutal end to the season that sees them finish Glasgow (A); Edinburgh (A); Leinster (H)

Most significant fixture – a trip to play Edinburgh at Murrayfield in Round 20 that could decide both teams’ fates.

Ulster may have the edge right now but they have a tough task on their hands to maintain that position. They are the only one of the Conference B playoff contenders to have more away than home fixtures remaining. Having to play Leinster twice isn’t too kind either – although it’s possible the Dubliners may rest a whole rake of players for that final round game which could change the complexion of that fixture.

OTOTM’s prediction – 4th (59 points)

Benetton – currently 3rd on 31 points

Home games remaining – 5 out of 9

Games v top 3 sides – 3
Games v bottom 4 sides – 2
Games v other playoff contenders – 4

Average points collected by remaining opponents – 32.4

Biggest issue – by some distance the toughest schedule of the Conference B playoff candidates.

Most significant fixture – it’s fixtures really with Scarlets and Edinburgh visiting Italy in Rounds 16 and 18 respectively. Benetton need wins in both games to stay in the playoff hunt.

Benetton did the business in their derby double header with Zebre (although not converting either of their victories into BP wins may well have rankled). The side from Treviso have a further encounter with their local rivals in Round 21 that should yield another win – but the playoffs may already be out of sight by that point.

OTOTM’s prediction – 5th (45 points)

Scarlets – currently 4th on 30 points

Home games remaining – 5 out of 9

Games v top 3 sides – 2
Games v bottom 4 sides – 4
Games v other playoff contenders – 3

Average points collected by remaining opponents – 27.8

Biggest issue – finding some form after losing 5 games out of 5 in December

Most significant fixture – a home game against Edinburgh in Round 19. With the Parc Y Scarlets fortress having been well and truly breached recently by Cardiff Blues that’s not the certainty it once might have seemed. And even a Scarlets’ win might not be enough to propel them to a home semi-final…

Of the 4 teams pursuing the PRO14 post season Scarlets have the least difficult run in by pretty much whatever measure is applied. If this was the Scarlets of 2017/18 it would be a case of chalking up 2nd place for the West Walians and moving on. That disastrous December has illustrated that the Scarlets are some way off the form of last season though and they will need to battle all the way to take their place in the playoffs.

OTOTM’s prediction – 3rd (62 points)

Edinburgh – currently 5th on 30 points

Home games remaining – 5 out of 9

Games v top 3 sides – 2
Games v bottom 4 sides – 3
Games v other playoff contenders – 4

Average points collected by remaining opponents – 28.7

Biggest issue – gathering wins during the 6 Nations without much of their first choice lineup. They only collected 6 out of a possible 24 points while Scotland players were missing around the November Tests.

Most significant fixture – a trip to Parc Y Scarlets. OTOTM is currently projecting this as a home win but if Edinburgh were to pull off a smash and grab they could put themselves well ahead of the pack in the race for 2nd.

After a couple of narrow losses to open the season Edinburgh’s top XV (bar missing centres Matt Scott and Mark Bennett) have been absolutely flying in domestic and European competition. Their backups not so much. That’s going to be the real challenge for Richard Cockerill. With 4 winnable games taking place during the 6 Nations the pugnacious head coach needs his squad to demonstrate they have the strength to cope when the big names are absent.

OTOTM’s prediction – 2nd (63 points)

With apologies to Benetton it looks like it’s going to be a 3-horse race for the final 2 playoff spots in Conference B. It’s going to be very tight with crucial head to head fixtures among the 3 teams. Ultimately it could come down to which side is most effective at harvesting bonus points.

Edinburgh’s run-in in detail

With 7 wins and 5 BPs required to hit that 63 point target the foundation of any charge to the playoffs for Edinburgh is going to be their strength at home. The men from the East only lost once on their own turf during 2018 (to Ulster) and their winning run included victories over Leinster, Glasgow, Munster, Toulon and Stade Francais. If they are going to make it to the post season then the starting point is 5 from 5 at Murrayfield.

After that it’s a case of avoiding an upset in Port Elizabeth against the Kings and then turning over Benetton in Italy during the 6 Nations (although it is at least a rest week meaning some of the Scotland squad will be released to play).

Any slip-ups at home or in those away games will likely mean Edinburgh needing to travel to Llanelli and beat fellow playoff contenders Scarlets on their home patch. Miss out there and instead of another end of season jolly for Glasgow and Edinburgh the 2 Scottish sides could be in a real dogfight with both teams trying to get as high as possible a finish in their respective conferences.

Fixtures before 6 Nations:

Sat 5 Jan – Southern Kings (H) *

Fixtures during 6 Nations period:

Sat 26 Jan – Southern Kings (A) * / Scotland players in camp
Fri 15 Feb – Dragons (H) * / 6N rest week
Sat 23 Feb – Cardiff Blues (H) * / France v Scotland
Sat 2 Mar – Benetton (A) * / 6N rest week

Post 6 Nations fixtures:

22/23 Mar – Leinster (H)
5/6 Apr – Scarlets (A) *
12/13 Apr – Ulster (H)
26/27 Apr – Glasgow (A)

Fixtures in orange represent targeted wins. Fixtures with an asterisk represent targeted try or losing bonus points.

It certainly won’t be easy and each one of the remaining fixtures carries its own risks and will need 100% focus and application. Richard Cockerill is unlikely to accept any less from his charges though and based on current form and the strength of schedule to the end of the season, Edinburgh look to be slight favourites to finish 2nd in Conference B and earn a home semi-final.


* Leinster, Glasgow and Munster
** Kings, Zebre, Cheetahs and Dragons
*** Connacht, Ulster, Ospreys, Cardiff Blues, Benetton, Scarlets, Edinburgh

Picture courtesy of the talented team at rugbypeople.net.

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