If the cap fits then Richard Cockerill will wear it

Coach asks if there is a hooker in the world playing better than Stuart McInally at the moment

Richard Cockerill
Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill sported a 'See You Jimmy Hat' at training yesterday after losing a bet on the outcome of Saturday's Calcutta Cup match to his assistant coaches. Image courtesy: Scottish Rugby / SNS Group

NOTORIOUS English bulldog Richard Cockerill admitted yesterday that he had mixed emotions as he sat in the West Stand at BT Murrayfield on Saturday evening and watched several of his Edinburgh players fulfil key roles in Scotland’s heroic Calcutta Cup victory over the land of his birth.

“We got exactly what we deserved, us English,” he conceded. “But I would like to think some of the Edinburgh boys were pretty influential in the result so I was pleased about that. It shows that we’ve got an environment which creates guys who can play at that level”

“Scotland played exceptionally well. I don’t think anybody saw that coming. I watched the game back on Saturday night because I couldn’t quite believe what had actually happened, and Martin Johnson was right: if you turn up and you don’t treat it with attention to detail to get it dead right, you can get yourself caught out. I’m learning that Murrayfield and the Scotland team is a different animal. England couldn’t live with them. England were not good enough to dominate any of it.”

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“And for me, Test weekends are great to almost be a neutral because whatever happens it’s not your fault as a coach.

An England devoid of ideas

“I was intrigued because England have been on great form and it looked as if they just came to town (thinking): ‘Well, if we play our game it’ll be good enough.’ But they looked devoid of ideas once they couldn’t dominate physically. Scotland rode their luck but they made their own luck and they deserved their win.”

On Gregor Townsend’s cajones

“The good thing is that Gregor sticks to his guns. After week one everybody was questioning where they were at. After week three it is all very positive. Gregor is realistic and knows we are doing some really good things,” Cockerill added – before realising his faux pas and correcting himself. “Did I say we? Scotland are doing some really good things.”

“But you can’t just keep doing that at home. It’s the same as ourselves, it is not about being good one week, then falling over the next, then getting a rocket and doing it well again the week after. Consistency is important.”

The former hooker, who was capped 27 times for England back in the 1990s, sported a tartan ‘See You Jimmy Hat’ at Edinburgh’s training yesterday, having lost a bet to his assistant coaches – Duncan Hodge, Calum MacRae and Roddy Grant – about the outcome of Saturday’s match.

“I’d been giving them a bit of stick saying it might be a bit embarrassing for them coming in on Monday in England shirts [which was their forfeit], but it was me with that hat on instead … which was great,” he chuckled.

“Of course there is satisfaction [at the way Scotland played],” Cockerill continued. “Because we’ve spent a lot of time and effort on guys like Simon Berghan, who last year struggled at the set-piece but has proved in the last couple of weeks that he’s started to mature and come of age there.”

McInally class act

“Stuart McInally has had bit part opportunities with the national team, but the way he’s playing is first class. He has worked exceptionally hard. We’ve put infrastructure around him at the club to work on some of his set-piece – he has always been a great footballer and now he has found confidence. He has gone from strength to strength. For me, he is one of the best hookers in the competition, easily, at the moment. In world rugby, who is playing better than Stuart at hooker? I can’t think of many who are better than he is.”

“Grant Gilchrist had a really tough time with injuries since the World Cup so it great to see him back, Hamish Watson is playing exceptionally well, and John Barclay, who will be an Edinburgh player next year, was outstanding.”

On Blair Kinghorn

Blair Kinghorn also made his debut off the bench on Saturday, only a few months after Cockerill poured cold water on the suggestion that he was a genuine contender for involvement in the November Test series.

“He wasn’t ready to step up earlier in the season but he has worked really hard over the last few months and earned his opportunity to be on the field with twelve minutes to go and win the Calcutta Cup, which is great for him. His first taste with Scotland is winning,” said Cockerill,

“There is no getting away from the fact that at the end of last year his defence was fairly average. Against La Rochelle, the smallest bloke on the field ran over him. His positioning in the back field has improved, and he is not making those one or two errors in a game that could cost us. He understands where the ball is going to go next and he is making his tackles and is enjoying himself. He is looking like a player who is confident. He deserves the opportunity.”

Kinghorn came through the age-grades as a stand-off and has played almost all his senior rugby as a full-back, but it was as a replacement for winger Tommy Seymour that he made his international debut. Cockerill reckons the 21-year-old has the ability to play anywhere in the back three – although he would like to see his player put pressure on Stuart Hogg for full-back slot.

“He is good enough to play on the wing. He has the aerial ability to do it, and he is very quick and agile for a big man. Having played at full-back he also gives you an understanding of what happens in the back field. [But] why can’t there be a situation where he competes for the 15 shirt?”

Hogg is a world class player. However, if Blair is playing well enough why shouldn’t he be competing? That keeps everybody nice and honest. You have two players playing well for their clubs at fifteen and if you want to get them both in the team then Blair has the ability to play on the wing.”

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Cockerill added that Kinghorn will be in the Edinburgh squad when they take on Munster this coming Friday.

“He’s now sweated a bit of the celebration out of his system. He is looking a bit healthier than he did first thing this morning. But they deserve to enjoy it. It was a great performance. There was nothing lucky about it. England have to take it on the chin,” said the coach.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh announced yesterday that hooker Cameron Fenton has also extended his stay with the club for a further year, while Melrose stand-off Jason Baggott – who has been part of Scottish rugby academy set-up since arriving from South Africa in July 2015 – has signed a full-time contact with the pro team for next season.

“We’ve got three other guys from outside that we’re still looking to bring in to make the team stronger,” added Cockerill. “The lads who are playing now are working hard and they’re playing well, but we’ve got to move this team forward and the only way to make change is to change things. Nothing personal, that’s how it is.”

About David Barnes 3956 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.