RICHARD COCKERILL says the make-up of his Edinburgh squad for next season is 99 per cent complete, and confirmed that there will be no room in that group – which he expects to be around 40 strong – for Scotland internationals Cornell du Preez, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Duncan Weir, or for Welsh playmaker Jason Tovey.
The head coach was tight-lipped about the prospect of Scotland centre Matt Scott returning to the club after two years playing for Gloucester, but pointedly did not rule out that possibility.
“I’m not in a position to confirm that at this point,” said Cockerill, when asked specifically about Scott being added to the playing roster during the summer.
“But we’re looking to strengthen the squad – we’re looking to strengthen the back-line – and we have done,” he added, referring to the scheduled arrival of Simon Hickey, the former New Zealand Under-20 stand-off, before the start of next season. “Hopefully there will be some more positive news around quality players coming into the team.”
In a refreshingly frank press briefing, Cockerill shed light on the challenges he faces in trying to refresh the squad – in particular he wants to add firepower to his backline – whilst sticking within a fairly tight budget.
“Cornell won’t be staying with us. We’ve got to get a balance to this squad across the forward pack and the backline. Cornell is a very valuable player in the market place – he’s a ball carrier who commands a decent salary – so we’ve decided that money can be spent across the group,” he explained.
“Obviously, we’ve got some you guys coming through, plus the emergence of Viliame Mata, and guys like Bradbury there – and our budget is our budget. So, unfortunately, from a financial point of view, it is not possible for us to come up with the sums of money that those sorts of players demand.”
It is a similar story with Hidalgo-Clyne. As a talented and versatile back-line player who grew up in Edinburgh, he would appear to perfectly fit the profile of the type of individual Cockerill wants to have in his squad – but as The Offside Line reported on Monday morning, the player and the club could not quite get on the same page.
“We put an offer on the table to Sammy but we couldn’t get to a point where we were both happy, so we move on and we look to build the squad,” said Cockerill.
In terms of coverage at scrum-half, Edinburgh still have Nathan Fowles [part of the Scotland Six Nations training squad this year] and Sean Kennedy on the books until at least the end of next season, while Currie Chieftains youngster Charlie Shiel is set to join the full-time staff next year, and the club is understood to have been in discussion with a potential recruit from New Zealand.
The Offside Line also reported last week that Duncan Weir had joined Worcester Warriors on a loan deal but he has now been called back to Edinburgh ahead of being named in the squad for Friday night’s trip to Belfast to take on Ulster. Cockerill has confirmed, however, that the 26-year-old stand-off’s longer-term future lies away from the Scottish capital.
“Duncan won’t be with us at the end of the season, he’s moving on, and there’s an opportunity for him at Worcester. It’s about giving him that opportunity. Unfortunately, because Tovey, [Phil] Burleigh and [Blair] Kinghorn are not available at the moment, I’m actually bringing Duncan back for this weekend because we need that coverage, we can’t expose ourselves for the next week or so,” he said.
“Where possible, we’ll try and help any player move on in a positive way – but he’ll be in the 23 for us on Friday.”
Duncan is a good man, a good player, I have a lot of time for him, but you have to make good decisions which can seem tough
“There were some discussions around his contract. We have Simon Hickey coming – that was an early signing – and since then Jaco ven der Walt has come on the market and we felt we had to bolster our ten position, so a cost comes with those two. Ultimately, we don’t need three tens – who are all very good players – because there is not enough room at the table playing-wise or financially.”
“And the way we want to play probably suits slightly different personnel [to Weir]. Duncan is a good man, a good player, I have a lot of time for him, but you have to make good decisions which can seem tough – that’s what you are paid to do – to get the best team out on the park.”
“It is not a short-term thing. We’ve got to remodel it a little bit at the end of this year, which we will, but we are looking to build the squad over the next three, four or five years to have some continuity and build some strength so we are able to compete,” Cockerill added.
“We’ve got to make sure we get that backline balanced along with the forward pack. When I arrived, there was lots of forwards and not many backs, and with respect to the guys there is probably less quality in the backline than in the forwards, so we’ve got address that balance a little bit.”
“The squad will be smaller but I think it will be a better quality if we are actually going to push on and compete and get into the play-offs – which might be this year if we get the wind behind us and are a bit lucky, but realistically we might just fall short of that.”
“And if we do qualify for the Champions Cup, that ups the workload and the attrition enormously. With the budget we have we are not going to have a hugely deep squad but we are going to have 40 players of good quality.”
Cockerill added that he is not concerned about the upheaval caused by the various comings and goings in the squad.
“I don’t think so because I’m just dead straight with the players. Those who are leaving, I’ve already had those conversations with, so it gives them four or five months to go and find alternative employment. For me, that is the right thing to do,” he explained.
They are Edinburgh players until they are not Edinburgh players, and if they earn their place in the team they will play
“Everyone is aware of what is going on. I’ve been really honest with them in terms of where we are at. Some of those decisions are quality based, some are about finance – if you’ve got a budget you have to make it fit.”
“I want guys to still have pride in what they are doing. If they don’t want to play then they won’t. If they don’t play to the level we need then someone else will play. If a lad is leaving and he is playing better than the lad who is staying, then I am going to pick the lad who is leaving because my job is to pick the best team for now.”
“If guys are disruptive to the group – which they haven’t been and I don’t expect team to be – they won’t be in the group. It is no different to the start of the year. It is a pretty simple formula.”
“They are Edinburgh players until they are not Edinburgh players, and if they earn their place in the team they will play,” he continued.
“There are some [other] guys I have already had conversations with who we are choosing not to keep and I expect exactly the same of them – if they are needed or command a place I will pick them because we’ve got to get this season done and dusted first.”
“Also, guys have their own pride in how they behave as professionals and how they want to play. Some guys are competing for contracts so they want to play well to put themselves in the market place to get the best deal they can.”