THE return of Hamish Watson comes at the perfect time for Edinburgh Rugby, admits head coach Richard Cockerill.

The flanker has not played any competitive rugby for Edinburgh this season after travelling to Japan for Scotland’s World Cup campaign, only to be ruled out of the remainder of the tournament due to a knee injury he suffered in the opening match against Ireland.

And with Edinburgh due to face Munster in Cork this evening in a vital Pro14 clash, Cockerill is delighted to have one of his most influential players back in the fold, particularly when it was initially thought Watson would not be fit until mid-December.

“The rehab has gone well and he has accelerated through the last part of that very quickly. He has done everything over the last two weeks and it is a timely return considering a few of the other guys are unavailable,” said Cockerill.

“He has not played for a long time but he trains well and he is a very fit man and he is raring to go.

“He is a very tough operator, on or off the ball, and he is very good over the ball. You get a hard edge from Hamish and he would be a miss from any team. He has been a big miss for us in the first part of the year.”

Despite Watson’s lack of competitive rugby over the past few months, Cockerill is confident his style of play will ensure he is not out of his depth at Irish Independence Park. And with the Irish sitting top of Edinburgh’s conference, Cockerill knows how important this game is for his side.

“He offers some unique traits round his ball carrying and physicality,” the Englishman said.

“He likes to roll his sleeves up and get in the middle of it. It suits him to come back in and play. He will go as hard as he can and for as long as he can against Munster and see where that takes him.”

John Barclay is absent due to the concussion he suffered in last week’s European Challenge Cup tie against Bordeaux-Begles but Cockerill welcome his captain, Stuart McInally, back after the hooker enjoyed an extended break following his return from Japan.

And the reintroduction of Watson and McInally are the only two changes from the starting fifteen who lined up against Bordeaux last week.

Munster are involved in the Champions Cup and so have a duel focus at the moment. And Cockerill believes that having two such important players such as Watson and McInally back, as well as facing the Irish at this particular time, adds up to a huge positive for the capital club.

“As I sit here now, is it a good time to go to Munster? Probably, because it is between the European periods but we take nothing for granted,” he said.

“They are at home, they are a good threat and they are well coached and that side has some very good players.

“We are just going to go there and play as well as we can, put our best game on the field and see where it takes us.”

Earlier in the week, Grant Gilchrist talked about how he believes this could be a statement season for Edinburgh. And while Cockerill was somewhat less bullish about his side’s potential this year, he shares Gilchrist’s optimism that things the club are in a good place at the moment.

“Look, we have to keep working hard,” Cockerill said.

“In my first year, we were fifth and got to the play offs, last year Europe was a success for us but we dropped off in the league. But I think we have a deeper squad and a group of players who are a year older, which always helps.

“We are building the depth and breadth of our experience in the team but it is a tough competition.

“I am not sure about a statement season, we are a team that has never won the competition; in this format, we have been to a quarter final.

“We have ambitions to make the playoffs because that is realistic if we get it right. Post that on any given day we are good enough to beat any team, I am sure of that, but to say it is a statement season, we are going to win the league or anything like that, I think that is a bit premature at this point.”