EDINBURGH’S season may have ended with a whimper rather than the roar that had been hoped for when rugby first emerged out of lockdown just under a month ago, but head coach Richard Cockerill insisted after his team’s 23-14 defeat to Bordeaux-Begles earlier today [Saturday] that the match should be considered an important step forward.
Cockerill argued that unlike the PRO14 play-off defeat to Ulster a fortnight ago – when a commanding lead was thrown away during the final 20 minutes – he was greatly encouraged on this occasion by the resilience his understrength team showed against one of the top sides in French rugby at the moment.
Not for the first time in a do-or-die match, unforced errors cost his team dearly, but the intensity of this contest meant that Cockerill took a more forgiving view.
Of course, the fact that Edinburgh’s 2019-20 season is now over after this Challenge Cup quarter-final reversal will have encouraged the head coach to take this unusually philosophical view, on the basis that dwelling on past mistakes is not the right mind-set for the start of a new campaign in just two weeks’ time. It was time to activate the pressure-release valve after three weeks of intense knock-out rugby.
“You have to be careful and be realistic about where we’re at when we’re playing at this level in this company,” he said. “Against Ulster, we should have won the game, we’re a good enough team and we didn’t deliver.
“Today, it was always going to be a tough task because they’re a very good side with very good players. Where Bordeaux sit, the budget they spend compared to our budget, and how we go about our business, in some ways it’s poles apart. You’re not comparing apples with apples.
“The effort and the composure we showed to get back in the game [from 14-0 down], be competitive and push to actually win the game was credit to all the players.
“We’re never going to accept losing – that’s a given – but the players who played in this game will have to learn from it. Guys like George Taylor, who had some bad moments and some very good moments, same with James Johnstone, same with Nick Haining, who drops the ball off that kick-off when it’s a six-point game. These things happen and pressure does that, and a lot of these guys haven’t been in this arena for long,
“We’re heading in the right direction. They [Bordeaux] were happy to get away with winning which is great for our guys and showed how much we have improved.
“We’re not going out into the marketplace to spend another two or three million pounds to make the team better, because we just don’t have it,” he added. “That’s the reality and it’s fine as long as people understand it when we have days like today when we’re so near yet so far.”
COVID-19 diagnosis a big let-d0wn
The build-up to this game was overshadowed by the news on Friday that a member of Edinburgh’s academy programme had tested positive to COVID-19 after breaking social distancing rules to attend a house party the previous weekend, but Cockerill insisted that this had no bearing on what happened on the team’s preparation. He did, however, make it very clear that he was deeply unimpressed at the whole situation.
“It was no distraction to the performance today, but it was a distraction to me and people up the chain because we have to deal with the situation, which is disappointing,” said the coach.
“I’m disappointed by the players’ behaviour. We live in a world where you can contract COVID-19 from anything, but as long as we’re all doing exactly what we say we’re going to do, working within the protocols both as general public and professional rugby players, if someone contracts it then that’s just life in the world we live in at the moment.
“The disappointing thing for me is that players involved knew exactly what they should and shouldn’t do, and they chose to do something they shouldn’t.
“Young men do what young men do and they’re going to have to learn that lesson. They’ve let down the whole team, simple as that. They know how they should behave, they know all the things that have been put in place to get games to be played and crowds in the stadium.
“It’s wrong, but it’s being dealt with. Thankfully there was no effect on the first team and we could come and play today but I’m not particularly happy with that type of behaviour.”
The wing wizard from Hawick
Cockerill also had words of praise for winger Darcy Graham, who exhibited a remarkable combination of speed, agility, power, resilience and awareness to bamboozle four opponents and conjure Edinburgh’s only try of the match, which was scored by Damien Hoyland.
“He’s a quality player and it was great work from him,” said Cockerill. “We’ve got some great quality and we’ve got to keep developing that, keep this team together and working hard on what we do.”
“There’s no real magic potion – we’ve got to work within the budget we have, and keep working to get the players we have better.”