RICHARD COCKERILL insisted earlier this week that ‘you can’t run a rugby team by committee’. Stirling County are determined to prove the new main man at Edinburgh wrong, having made the left-field decision to replace out-going head coach David Adamson with a panel of individuals who will work together to try and ensure that this coming season sees the club fulfill its undoubted potential.
Peter Jericevich, who has moved from National League One side GHA to take on a player-coach role, says he can understand why the set-up might raise a few eyebrows amongst those more used to a conventional top-down command structure, but insists that that lines or responsibility have been clearly defined and that the system in place is best suited to maximising the coaching resources available at the club.
“I’ll be leading the coaching on Tuesdays and Thursdays working with the backs, Eddie Pollock (a former head coach at the club) and Gavin Blackburn (previously of Biggar) will take the forwards. But Eddie and I both work for the Union, and I’ll hopefully be playing on a Saturday while Eddie has responsibilities with the various other teams and players he works with elsewhere, so Graeme Young (another former head coach) will be the lead coach on match days. Graeme will also be in charge of defence,” he explains.
Current Scotland internationalists Chris Fusaro and Grant Gilchrist will once again be involved as contact and line-out coaches respectively, while academy manager Stewart Milne will have a roving role in the set-up.
But what happens if Jericevich is having a stinker in a match and Young decides to hook the 28-year-old former Scotland 7s cap before half-time? Will the player-coach by tempted to pull rank?
There is a pause for contemplation then a smile. “Graeme wouldn’t do that,” he laughs.
Being a player-coach is not easy, but Jericevich is clearly unconcerned about biting off more than he can chew.
“I’ve done it for the last three seasons with GHA,” he points out. “Before that I was playing for Ayr and coaching Glasgow University, which I really enjoyed, but it meant that every night of the week I was either coaching or training myself, so I moved to GHA in order to combine the two, and it worked out quite well. We nearly got promoted in my first year, we got to the Premiership play-off, and then the last couple of years we have been developing a young squad which I think we will be ready to push on again in a couple of years.”
“I’ve also been involved in coaching the Scotland Women Sevens team and then the full Women’s national team – which is pretty much a full professional set-up during the last three years, so that has really pushed me on coaching-wise.”
“My day job is running the SRU’s coach education programme for strength and conditioning. If you have a good understanding of S&C and a good understanding of rugby then that helps you in both roles – hopefully it will stand me in good stead as I move forward.”
“I really enjoyed it at GHA but it was time for a new challenge. This is a chance to play in the Premiership again and and test myself as a coach at that level as well.”
Jericevich has joined a club which has plenty of potential based on an excellent youth set-up and roots into the community, but a knack of not quite translating that into success at 1st XV level.
“I think they are a sleeping giant,” he agrees. “They’ve had a few years when they’ve ended up in the bottom half of the table but they definitely should be looking to finish higher. So, we’ve made a few changes and hopefully that will happen this year.”
“We’ve got a really exciting back-line, with Bruce Sorbie [who spent most of last season in South Africa on a scholarship at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport] at 15, Logan Trotter and Kerr Gossman [signed from Glasgow Hawks] on the wing, Ross Curle [previously of Ayr] in the centre and myself at half-back – so if the pack can give us the ball then I know we can do some damage.”
Curle, who was initially going to retire before being persuaded to take one more trip around the block, is the box-office signing of the summer.
“I’ve played with him a lot over the years and we’re good friends. What he brings is experience and he’s shown that already over pre-season with his leadership. If you take away that game against Hawks in the play-offs last season, when he got another ban, he has improved in his fiery behaviour. So I think you’ll see a more relaxed, experienced Ross this year. It will maybe help that he has gone to a new club,” says Jericevich, before conceding that he wouldn’t want his chum to mellow too much.
“You wouldn’t want him to stop playing on the edge because what he is really good at is changing the momentum of a game with a big tackle or a powerful run. Now that he’s a bit more experienced, he’s won titles and played at a high level, it will really help the younger players coming through.”
Jericevich name-checks a triumvirate of exciting young centres he believes will learn a lot from playing alongside Curle, in Craig Pringle, Grant Hughes and Andrew McLean, who all represented Scotland at either Under-20 or Under-18 level last year.
Stirling have lost a few big beasts from their pack with second-row Adam Sinclair moving to Heriot’s, Alex Taylor off to Wales and Fergus Bradbury taking a break from the game. But Jericevich is satisfied that the gaps created have been well plugged.
The second-row has been bolstered by Kiwi recruit Joe Beech and James Pow from Kirkcaldy, there is a French prop on the way and former Melrose front-row stalwart Gary Holborn has signed-up at the grand old age of 39.
He’s the fittest he’s been, he does a lot of cross-fit and other things outside rugby,” insists Jericevich.
“There is definitely more competition in the pack. Our back-row is very competitive with Andrew Grant-Suttie, Shaun MacDonald, Ruairidh Leishman, Dave Montgomery, Harry Henderson, who has a great chance of making Scotland Under-20s this year, and Hamilton Burr, who is now a stage three Academy player and training with Glasgow Warriors.”
“It’s going to be a really competitive league this year. Ayr and Melrose are the teams we are all chasing but I think there are a few sides can give them a run for their money,” he continues.
“Watsonians have recruited well and Stevie Lawrie will really drive them on, Heriot’s had a disappointing season by their recent standards but will bounce back and we’re obviously feeling pretty good about ourselves. The play-offs are definitely the target.
“If you look at the table last season, there wasn’t much a gap between the teams from fourth to tenth, so we want to be pushing ahead of that group and targeting the teams right at the top.”