IN the midst of what looked like a crisis earlier this season it was not hard to see why Edinburgh’s management turned to Fraser McKenzie to take on the club captaincy.
Deep into his 30th year, the lock’s association with the club goes back 12 years, but this is his second or arguably third spell there, time in the English Premiership with both Sale Sharks and Newcastle Falcons having added to his worldliness, while there was even an involvement in the one major success achieved by a Scottish pro team when he spent time on loan to Glasgow Warriors during their Pro12 winning season.
there is additional merit in the fact that,
for all his fine years of service, he currently looks set to remain uncapped, ensuring season-long availability. In short, he is the definition of a club stalwart, so after he entered the room the other day while head coach Richard Cockerill was outlining as much of his planning as he was prepared to make public and expressing enthusiasm about how he expected a stream-lined
squad to perform next season, McKenzie immediately brought matters back to the
here and now.
“I try to take a step back, I control the playing side of things and keep with the current squad,” he said. “That is the squad that is going to get us where we want to be over the next eight games. Out of respect for them that is where I want to do, I don’t want to be talking about next season, who is in who is out. It is really nothing to do with me, that is the way I see it.
“Regardless, the squad we have got at the moment is performing well and gelling well and that is exciting. Next year, I am sure there are very good players coming in. There is good knowledge within the coaching team and they see the areas we need to improve and who are the best options. You go with it and the people who come in will buy into our culture and, if not, we will get somebody else. That’s how it works.”
In saying so he recognises that there was a lot of work to be done when Cockerill came in and, while this weekend’s visit to Ulster could make or break their PRO14 campaign and their bid to reach the play-offs and/or qualify for Europe, he accepted that the coach was right to say that the current squad remain outsiders to do so.
“Nobody wants to go out and say we are going to do this, we are going to win everything. Where we have come from,
from where you have seen the last four or
five years when we have been a seventh-downwards side, saying we are going to be a top-four side has come back to bite us,” McKenzie pointed out.
“I don’t think we can say that this year, there are a lot of teams above us or more established than us, and we will just go about our jobs quietly, working hard and doing the things we need to do to get ourselves in a position when we can be contesting that [play off]. That is all we can do.”
As to the circumstances that brought about his appointment, McKenzie accepts that there were issues to address after first Magnus Bradbury, the youngster who had initially been a surprise choice as club captain and John Hardie, the experienced New Zealand-born international flanker,
had picked up suspensions for off-field misdemeanours, but again maintains that any issues should not be blown out of proportion.
“It started early in the season. People jumped on it then . . . ‘Do Edinburgh have a culture issue, or have their standards dropped, are we too comfortable in this?’ Possibly we were and we look back and say ‘Did we need a kick up the arse?’ Yes, we probably did,” he acknowledged.
“Cockers has come in and added that discipline and added that minimum standard, that this is a level we have to achieve and if not then you will be replaced. You either buy in or you are gone. It is a simple as that and the majority of the squad have looked at it and said ‘we want to be part of this’. It is exciting times. We have a very good coaching staff, Hodgey [Duncan Hodge] was here last and is a very good coach, though last season didn’t show him to his best, so full credit to him in difficult circumstances with coaches leaving and him changing up.
“Then, at the start of October, when we had only played three or four games, it all happened. It was not ideal, everybody knows that, but we have put that behind us.
The players in question have fully bought into it . . . they had never not bought into it but had made a couple of errors, poor judgment.
“Generally from that point onwards
and the Treviso home game, it was a
turning point for us. Were we going to be
just a team that scrapes through games or were we going to be a team that played an exciting brand of rugby? We have changed the way we play, we are challenging our skills and not wanting to play a simple brand.
We have had a bit of stability and that is starting to show. The same coaching set-up has fresh new ideas and the players are really buying into it.”
Whatever happens this weekend will not be the end of this season since they meet Ulster again in Edinburgh in a few weeks’ time and also have a European Challenge Cup to look forward to it, which could yet provide another route into next season’s Champions Cup, but there is an awareness that the trip to Belfast could be pivotal.
“It is a big game. We know what is at stake,” said McKenzie. “A win puts us in a very good situation but if we don’t we are not out of it, we are still in the mix and believe in ourselves. We are training hard. We have bought in as a team at the moment regardless of who is missing; they take a back seat.
“It is who is on the training field at any moment in time. We get back [from the Scotland squad] who we get back and we are focussing on that [game]. We are looking forward to it.”