Newcastle v Edinburgh reaction: Birthday boy Richard Cockerill praises team’s work ethic

“Good things happen if you work hard and good things are happening to us just now.”

Richard Cockerill
Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill is all smiles after his team's 8-21 victory over Newcastle Falcons in the Heineken Champions Cup. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

RICHARD COCKERILL celebrated his 48th birthday in style yesterday [Sunday], watching his Edinburgh team secure a business-like 8-21 victory at Newcastle Falcons to stretch into a four-point lead at the top of European Champions Cup Pool Five with two games to go.

It was the team’s first away win since beating Connacht in the PRO14 on 23rd March and was achieved through a combination of set-piece superiority and a disciplined approach to building pressure in both attack and defence. Edinburgh didn’t create as many clear-cut scoring opportunities as their opponents, but they were generally more clinical when they did get a sniff of the line. And when they were on the back foot their scramble defence was superb.

“It’s a great win,” said Cockerill afterwards. “We had to win two games out of our last three and we’ve won one, so it’s put us in a great position to try and qualify. Montpellier thumped Toulon so we’ve got two massive games now to try to get out of the group and we’ve given ourselves an opportunity.

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“We put pressure on ourselves to come and win this game. I thought we played the better rugby. They’ve got some great threats and they challenged us at times, but to come away from home in Europe and have to win is new territory for us.

“Hopefully this is the first step towards us building confidence away from home. We have had some close calls and fallen on the wrong side of results, and some decisions which have hurt us. Hopefully this is a turning point for us.”

Edinburgh trailed 6-8 at the break but scored 15 unanswered points during the second half – with centre James Johnstone and winger Duhan van der Merwe grabbing tries – to ease to a comfortable win.

“We’ve got a good forward pack and we’ve just got to cut out errors,” reflected Cockerill. “I felt at half-time with the whole group that we were just sort of waiting for the game to happen, but I think in the second half we took the game by the scruff of the neck and I think we deserved to win. It was about not letting them get anything out of the game as well, so I’m delighted for the performance.

“Good things happen if you work hard and good things are happening to us just now.”

Doing it for the fans

There was a small but vocal support for Edinburgh at the game, and Cockerill is hopeful that one of the great European rugby cities might finally be ready to get behind their professional team after years of frustration at a general lack of progress.

“It’s good to see travelling fans – people in Edinburgh kit, fans chanting the team’s name – it’s new territory on and off the field for me,” he explained. “It’s a good night for Edinburgh Rugby.

“We are going to go to Toulon [on 12th January] as the top team in our group and we’re going to try to qualify, and if we don’t we can bring Montpellier to Murrayfield [on 18th January] and try to qualify, whether that’s in first or second place. So, we’ve earned the right to be here and we’re giving it a bash and seeing how far we can go.”

Before that, there is the small matter of back-to-back matches against Glasgow Warriors in the 1872 Cup over the next two Saturdays. It is a gruelling schedule – especially for Edinburgh’s international contingent coming off the back of the November Test series – but Cockerill says he welcomes the opportunity to test and grow the strength in depth of his squad in matches which really matter.

Building consistency

“Our Test boys will recover and will prepare for next week and then we’ll play against Glasgow,” he insisted. “We’ll look after our squad against Southern Kings because we’re going to have to and then we go on to Toulon and Montpellier.

“The best players I’ve played with and coached prepare themselves well and turn up and are consistent every time they play. That’s what being a pro player is and we’ve got some really good ones here.

“What builds resilience and quality in Test players is playing in these sorts of games and then backing that up. We’ve done it for the past couple of weeks and we have one hell of a challenge against Glasgow, who have a good squad and have played really well.

“It is relentless but that’s what we are trying to build towards here. We are trying to deliver every week and we are starting to do that slowly. We have done well today but we have not qualified. We are happy but we know we have a long way to go.

“We’ve worked bloody hard so it’s nice to get some satisfaction and reward. We don’t want to be the plucky losers – sometimes [in the past] we’ve been happy with that tag – but now we just have to keep pushing on.

“I’m enjoying it, enjoying the challenge. It’s nice to get a shot in the arm by winning some games. We’ve got a good set of players with a lot of internationals in the team. Scotland are playing exceptionally well as a national team, so why shouldn’t we perform on the club stage?”

Falcons’ wings clipped

Falcons Director of Rugby Dean Richards had no complaints about the outcome.

“We had three injuries in the first half and we had to change Glen Young at halftime which meant we were a little bit depleted in the second-row, and you really need a line-out caller which we didn’t have in the second half. So, that affected us a little bit, but having said that I think Edinburgh were good on the day and deserved the victory,” he summarised.

“I just thought they took their chances better than we did. At times, we cut them open quite easily, but we just didn’t finish team off. If you make the number of breaks that we did and don’t convert them then you don’t deserve to win.”

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About David Barnes 3040 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he 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.