ALLAN Dell is going, Michael Willemse may be arriving, and Bill Mata is staying long-term even if Richard Cockerill has to sell one of his own children’s kidneys to fund the deal. The main focus of the week for Edinburgh is of course the game against Montpellier on Friday which could see them claim a place in the Champions Cup quarter-final, but as clubs everywhere step up their recruitment drives for next season, the head coach had to address several potential changes to his squad at his Murrayfield press conference yesterday (Monday) before looking ahead to that clash.
“Allan won’t be with us next season – as far as I know he’s signed a contract with London Irish,” he said when asked about the loosehead prop, who has fallen behind Pierre Schoeman in the pecking order this season. “It’s a good opportunity for him and he’s got family that have just moved to London, so it’s turned into a perfect storm for him. He’s had a good offer.
“We’ve got Schoeman, and [Rory] Sutherland’s done well,” Cockerill continued when asked if he planned to recruit a replacement for Dell. “[Darryl] Marfo’s a very good player when’s he’s on form, and we’ll have a look at that position as ever and decide what’s the right thing to do.
“Dell is a very good player and the competition here drives everyone to be a good player. I don’t think it’s anything about his playing time: it’s about opportunity. London Irish are coming up [to the English Premiership] and they have a good budget to recruit a squad, and Allan will be part of that. We wish him well, but we have six months of our season left and he’ll be an important part of that.”
Willemse, the Southern Kings hooker, has told his club that he has had discussions with Edinburgh about a summer move, and the Kings issued a statement yesterday to say he was in “the advanced stages of talks” about a move to Scotland. However, Cockerill implied the signing was no more than a possibility at this stage.
“We’re talking to lots of players, he’s one of them. We live in a world of social media where rumours get spun around the whole time. I don’t have anything to tell, really. I might speak to the agent of Kieran Read, but he’s not coming, is he?”
A suggestion that the All Blacks captain might be tempted if he saw Edinburgh’s win over Toulon at the weekend then met with Cockerill’s approval. “Why would he not come after Saturday? Exactly!”, the coach added.
As well as being the result that set up this Friday’s showdown, Edinburgh’s 28-17 win in France once more highlighted the immense talent of No 8 Mata, whose offload for James Johnstone’s try was hyperbolically hailed on BT Sport as the greatest in the history of competitive sport. Even allowing for a touch of exaggeration in that comment, it is clear that Mata’s immense talent will make him a target for suitors sooner or later, but Cockerill insisted he will do everything in his power – including that humorous aside about his offspring’s internal organs – to keep the Fijian, whose current contract runs until 2020.
“I thought Jamie Ritchie’s [offload to Darcy Graham] was better for the first try, to be fair,” the coach continued, “Because he’s a little wee Scotsman nobody says anything about it. No look, Vili is a world-class player but you could say that about a lot of our guys at the weekend. It’s a great offload, but it’s a pretty good take by Johnstone as well. Vili’s a quality player, I’m never going to pretend that he’s not, but he’s our player, we’ve developed him and he’s going to be very important to what we do in the next six months.
“Vili will be here for a long time to come. If we’ve got any ambition as a club, we’re going to do everything to keep our best players. I don’t give a monkey’s about anybody else. We’re not going to be a selling club. We are a team who are going to develop our players and keep our best players where possible.
“I won’t be selling anybody ever out of our team that’s doing what Vili’s doing. Or any other player. It’s as simple as that. We’ll be making sure we do everything we can to keep our best players at the club, because we want to develop and get stronger.
“I will sell which ever one of my children’s kidneys . . . . I’d say brain, but it wouldn’t be much. We’ll do everything we can to keep our best players: that includes Vili or anybody else. Because that’s how it should be. How realistic that is, we’ll see, but I’m up for the battle, don’t worry.”
Dogs of war
Cockerill still thinks his squad will be underdogs on Friday given the amount of individual talent available to Montpellier coach Vern Cotter, but he is certain his players will be up for the battle, and is looking forward to finding out how far that will take them. “We have a really good opportunity to qualify top of the group and have a home quarter-final, so that’s our ambition. We wouldn’t have thought that at the start of the pool, but now we’ve got to this stage I don’t want us to be congratulating ourselves too much because we’ve actually achieved nothing yet. We can still not qualify, or we could end up somewhere very, very hard in the quarter-final.
“They’ve won one of their last 13 European games. That was at Glasgow. I’m going to back ourselves. They’ve got some great players, they’ve got good staff, they’re a good club with good coaches, with world-class players, but we’re going to do everything to win on Friday night and I believe we can do it if we get it right.
“We’re going to go and play, we’re going to run a big team around, and we’re going to have a crack. It’s the only way to beat them.
“Are we good enough? I’ve no idea.
“Are we going to go and see if we are. Bloody right we are. We’re going to go and play our best and we’re going to give it a crack. If they’re better than us and we play our best, well, fair play to them. But we’ll see.”
Brothers in arms?
A win for Edinburgh would not only knock Montpellier out of Europe, it would also guarantee Glasgow a last-eight place before their own last pool game, at Saracens on Saturday. “What you are saying is that Glasgow are relying on us?,” was Cockerill’s take on that possibility. “There’s a change – we can look after our little brothers from the other end of the motorway . . . .
“Scottish rugby is getting stronger and stronger: if us getting to a quarter-final helps everybody else, then great. If we can help Glasgow on the way so be it, they have a tough afternoon to come at Allianz Park, but we have to focus on ourselves.”