WITH two rounds played and two to go in the pool stage of the Champions Cup, Edinburgh are already tantalisingly close to a place in the last 16.

That is partly a consequence of the generous qualifying process, in which the top eight from each pool of 12 go into the knockout stages, but it is also testament to how well Mike Blair’s team – fifth at present in Pool A – played in last month’s opening two rounds.

First they came within a score of beating former European champions Saracens in London, eventually going home with just a losing bonus point from a 30-26 defeat. Then they beat Castres 31-20 in a game which saw their four tries earn them the full five points.

That total of half a dozen points accrued leaves Edinburgh needing perhaps only two more from their return fixtures – tomorrow’s game at Castres, then the home match against Saracens a week tomorrow. But the quality of the opposition means that getting those points is far from a foregone conclusion.

Certainly, Edinburgh will need to be a lot sharper in France than they were at home to Zebre last week in the league, when they stumbled to a 24-17 win. But that was a second string, and Blair has been able to bring back a lot of his big guns for this trip.

Scotland internationals Grant Gilchrist, Willem Nel, Jamie Ritchie and Pierre Schoeman are all in the squad after being rested last Saturday, Argentina’s Emiliano Boffelli returns from injury and plays on the right wing, and Bill Mata is promoted from the bench to start at No.8.

Fourteen players are listed as unavailable for the trip, among them such important names as Luke Crosbie, Darcy Graham, James Lang, Stuart McInally and Duhan van der Merwe. But Edinburgh will travel in a positive frame of mind, buoyed by the knowledge that their first win in the competition in France came against Castres in late 2008, when Blair himself was at scrum-half.

The head coach admitted yesterday that he could not recall too many precise details of that 13-6 victory, but did remember the attitude that was needed to achieve it.

“Myself and Mark Robertson – who is now our head of strength and conditioning – were both playing,” Blair said. “I’m going to try and get the squad some footage of it.

“I can’t remember the game too much, but Robbo did score a try. It was a team performance filled with guts and determination. We’ll need that again from 1 to 23 this Sunday.

“It was a really special day, a great day for the club. Winning away from home in France is great and it is a special thing. We have talked about that as well, about the challenge we have ahead of us and what an opportunity we have.

“We’ve spoken a lot this week around Edinburgh’s history and tradition in the Champions Cup – it’s a competition that we really enjoy playing in. I want our players to express themselves in France, while fronting up to the physical challenge of a Castres side who will be energised by their home support.”

Castres were physical enough at the DAM Health Stadium when they put out a heavily rotated team, and they are likely to pose an even more formidable threat tomorrow with key players such as former Glasgow lock Leone Nakarawa back in the side. The Fijian will captain the home team, and at 34 retains the ability to turn a game on its head with a moment of magic.

“The last game I saw him play in was against Exeter and he was excellent,” Blair continued. “He had a couple of turnovers, still trying to get his hands free in contact. With guys like him, if he clicks he is pretty dangerous.”

Last month’s win over Castres came in the middle of a sticky spell for Edinburgh, and it remains to be seen if that hard-fought win over Zebre was a sign that they have emerged from it. One thing is certain, their hosts tomorrow will punish any lapses with considerably more severity than the Italians were able to do.

Castres (v Edinburgh at the Stade Pierre-Fabre, tomorrow 1pm UK time): T Larregain; M Laveau, V Botitu, A Seguret, G Palis; B Urdapilleta, G Doubrere; Q Walcker, G Barlot, W Hounkpatin, L Nakarawa (captain), T Hannoyer, B Cope, J Raisuqe, T Ben-Nicholas. Substitutes: P Colonna, M Tierney, A Azar, R Pieterse, T Staniforth, K Kornath, S Arata Perrone, A Cocagi.

Edinburgh: H Immelman; E Boffelli, M Bennett, C Hutchison, B Kinghorn; C Savala, C Shiel; P Schoeman, D Cherry, L de Bruin, M Sykes, G Gilchrist (captain), S Skinner, J Ritchie, V Mata. Substitutes: P Harrison, B Venter, W Nel, J Hodgson, N Haining, B Vellacott, C Scott, J Blain.

Referee: W Barnes (England).