RICHARD Cockerill’s transformation of Edinburgh is often put down to the work ethic he has demanded from his players, or to his instilling a far better atmosphere about the place. But, according to Stuart McInally, a straightforward attention to detail has also been a key factor – and the hooker highlighted a part of his own job as an example of the coach’s urge to do whatever it takes to make his team better.
“It was so clear what a successful club should look like and he just pinpointed little things, for example getting a throwing coach,” the hooker said last week after being named Edinburgh captain for the season. “For him it was like, ‘You don’t have a throwing coach? What do you mean?’ He’s been so used to, in his career, just having access to everything possible to help us get better.
“So Simon [Hardy] came in and helped me, and that’s just one example of him [Cockerill] trying to build a club and a culture where it’s all just geared towards making us as good as possible. It was good for us to see.
“He’s pretty straight up and down. You come in, you work hard and you get results. That’s what he’s built his whole career around, as a player and as a coach, and he’s had a lot of success.”
If such things as working harder and getting a throwing coach seem obvious ways for a team to get better, they were not all that obvious to the Edinburgh players in the past. Even someone as conscientious as McInally appeared happy to amble on in the old manner, and was not wholly convinced of how a throwing coach could help his game until Cockerill – himself a former hooker – recruited Hardy.
“I didn’t really understand the need for a throwing coach until last year probably. I was like, ‘I can take a bag of balls and I can throw. – that’s all he’s going to do anyway’.
“But he’s actually come in and he’s so technical. He films you and after every training session I get a big list of throws: ‘What the hell were you doing on this? This is what we practise’. He holds us pretty accountable to it so, yeah, it’s good. That’s just one example of how good it is.”
Not that either McInally or Cockerill thinks the transformation is complete. The coach has insisted several times that “one half-decent season in the last eight years” is no grounds for extended celebration, and the captain is sure that there is room for Edinburgh to keep getting better in every area of the game.
“I think we can make improvements everywhere. I think we made big strides in our defence and our set piece is going in the right direction and our attack as well. I’d like to see us keep developing our attack.
“I think we have some very exciting backs who score a lot of good tries, and someone like Blair Kinghorn is one of the hottest prospects in the league at the moment and he’s someone that we want to get on the ball as much as possible. I think that’s one thing that will happen: we’ve been working hard on it in pre-season and hopefully it’s a big part of this league. Everyone likes to attack, and hopefully we can get some of our exciting youngsters on the ball.”
Cockerill himself knows that teams will not take his side so lightly this year, and that more contests will be tougher as a result. But he is also confident that his own side can get tougher too, and that the improvement in year one of his reign can be just the start provided the players maintain their good habits.
“Every team that plays Edinburgh now aren’t going to just turn up and expect to beat us, are they?,” the coach said. “They know they’re going to be in for a hell of a game, and they’re going to double their efforts, which will inevitably make it tougher for us
“So there are clearly some challenges ahead. But we’re going to meet them head on and go into every game looking to win regardless of who we play.
“That’s the attitude we had last year and it stood us in good stead. There will be some bumps along the way, but we believe we can be better than last year.”