NO alcohol ban. No curfew. Just a reminder to behave responsibly or face the consequences.
Richard Cockerill did not make a kneejerk reaction to the incident that has now led to Magnus Bradbury’s removal as Edinburgh captain, and he has also resisted any temptation to take panic measures affecting the squad as a whole. Instead, the head coach believes that his treatment of Bradbury has set a useful precedent, and that all his players should be regarded as adults until they provide evidence to the contrary.
It took Cockerill and Edinburgh 10 days to announce a verdict on the inquiry into Bradbury, which began when the 22-year-old forward was injured on a night out in the city centre. Ideally, that time span would have been shorter, and over and done with before the unrelated suspension of John Hardie was announced on Friday, but the main thing is that a decisive and just course of action has now been taken.
As a relatively inexperienced player with no reputation as a hellraiser, Bradbury deserved the chance to admit his mistake and move on without being subjected to draconian punishment. At the same time, as club captain and a player in whom Cockerill had placed a lot of faith, he could not expect to escape with a symbolic slap on the wrist. Not, at least, if the coach were to retain his credibility.
A balance needed to be struck, and that has now been done quite neatly. Bradbury loses the captaincy but regains membership of the squad. Having been suspended for the last two games – the Challenge Cup wins over London Irish and Krasny Yar – he will also sit out this weekend’s PRO14 visit to Treviso, but only because he is still feeling the effects of the head knock. Presuming he is fit, he should return to action the following weekend against Ospreys.
“He’ll be available for selection when he’s fit,” Cockerill confirmed. “He’s no longer the captain of the club, and that’ll sit on his record for 12 months.
“Magnus was under the influence of alcohol, his behaviour was inappropriate, and unfortunately that ended up with him falling over, thus knocking himself out. I don’t think it’s the right image for our captain or any of our players to portray, being inebriated, unconscious on the pavement in the centre of town with an ambulance dealing with you. It’s not a picture we want to portray. However, Magnus understands that, he’s taken responsibility for his actions and accepted the consequences and we move on.”
The appointment of Bradbury as captain was criticised in some quarters long before the suspension, particularly when the back-row forward failed to show the required leadership qualities in his team’s abysmal home defeat by Benetton. But Cockerill insisted he had no regrets about that decision, even if he now appears to be erring on the safe side by appointing a far more experienced successor in 29-year-old Fraser McKenzie.
“No, I think it was the right choice,” the coach continued. “I have to deal with what is put in front of me as it appears. We have to have a strong culture.
“There is a perception that the culture is a little bit loose – well I need to tighten the belt on that. If our captain behaves like that there are consequences.
“[McKenzie] is a strong character who speaks well, and he’s very committed to the club. He gives us a voice that may lead the team a little bit better on and off the field.
“I would rather have not been in this position, but I think it’s the right decision to stand Magnus down and it’s the right decision for Fraser to take over the leadership of the team for the rest of this year.
“In every team in the world there are guys who go out and have a beer – I’ve got no problem with that as long as they’re doing it within the realms of responsibility and not doing anything illegal. We’re here to enjoy ourselves and play a sport we love, but also we have a professional responsibility. When they’re outside of these doors you have to trust the players.
“They’re adults that have to make the right choices. I’m not going to ban alcohol or give them curfews, but they have to make the right choices. I’m not going to treat them like children. If they behave poorly they’ll get disciplined, and over time we’ll get a group who make the right choices.”
With the Bradbury issue over and done with and the Hardie suspension out of his hands, Cockerill can now, to his relief, return to rugby matters. Benetton might only have won at Myreside thanks to a woeful slump from Edinburgh after they had raced into a 14-0 lead, but the Italians showed by losing to Toulon by just a point at the weekend that they are continuing to improve.
“I don’t think off-field has affected on-field,” Cockerill added. “If anything the way we’ve trained and the environment is stronger than ever. We’ve just got to keep improving as a team.
“We’ve won the last three, but not against the three best teams in the world. We’ll take that into context: it will be a very good test for us at the weekend. Treviso have played well since they beat us and were very unlucky not to beat Toulon at the weekend.”