WHILE most rugby-interested eyes in Scotland have been focussed this summer on the national team’s preparation for next month’s World Cup, the two pro teams have been quietly going about the business of getting ready for the start of their seasons – which will involve playing at least the first four rounds of the Guinness PRO14 without their international contingent.
Edinburgh’s build-up will crank up a notch this Saturday when they play their first pre-season friendly against London Scottish at Murrayfield [kick-off: 2pm] and loose-head prop Pierre Schoeman says the squad is in the best possible physical condition after four gruelling months of being put through their paces under the watchful eye of ‘Coach Cockers’ – aka Richard Cockerill.
“If you’re not fit after four months of pre-season with Coach Cockers then there is something wrong,” reasons the South African-born 25-year-old, who has become a cult hero at the club since his arrival last summer, mainly due to his wild head of hair, all-or-nothing playing style, quirky personality and general zest for life.
“With all the Scotland boys away training for the World Cup we’ve been able to work on the depth of the squad, give some reps to the younger lads.
“It is tough, but you get paid to do it and you get to follow your passion each day – so it’s actually a blessing.
“It was a privilege to go to the St Andrews training camp last week, but it was also the toughest part of pre-season. We’ve been down to North Berwick as well, running up and down the sand dunes and swimming in the sea. It is nice to get out of Murrayfield and have a change of scenery.
“We have mates all around the world – in South Africa and New Zealand as well as in Europe – and I must say that the chat going around the boys is that Edinburgh is one of the clubs which is the most hard-working in the world.
“In South Africa, we had our Super Rugby pre-season which was intense but short. Over here, you have long hours in the gym and every day you have to be better, especially with Coach Cockers watching on. There is no shortcuts – if your body is a bit sore you have to suck it up and just be strong again tomorrow. A day off is a wasted time so that doesn’t happen.
“It is much tougher and all the South Africans coming here say the same: Jaco [van der Walt], Duhan [van der Merwe], Mike [Willemse] and, of course, big WP [Nel] has been through a few pre-seasons with Edinburgh and Scotland.
“Obviously, we had to be fit for Super Rugby, but I feel a lot stronger, and that’s the main part of your job as a prop – to be strong at scrums and mauls first – and then get over the park to carry and clean-out and make tackles.”
“It was good to condition the body before the rugby and now we can focus on getting our game right,” he adds.
Despite being without so many senior players such as Stuart McInally, Nel, Grant Gilchrist, John Barclay and Blair Kinghorn – who are away on Scotland duty – Schoeman says he is confident that there is enough experience and leadership in the squad to start the season with a bang.
“There are some big leaders left here who have been at the club for a long time, like Fraser McKenzie, Matt Scott, Dougie Fife and Henry Pyrgos,” he says. “We know that we are going to have to play a big part in the season, you can’t just rely on the Scotland boys, because there is a lot of games when they won’t be there that we are going to have to pull through.”