Richard Cockerill confirms commitment to Edinburgh after Clermont link

Capital coach is frustrated by how the current campaign has gone but believes that better times lie ahead

Richard Cockerill
Richard Cockerill takes a much-changed Edinburgh squad to Wales on Sunday for their final game of the season. Image: © Craig Watson -www.craigwatson.co.uk

SPEAKING immediately after his team’s 34-15 loss to Cardiff Blues on Monday night, which finally killed off any hopes of qualifying for the Champions Cup next season, Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill wasted little time putting to bed rumours linking him with a move to France in the summer to take over from Franck Azema as head coach at Clermont Auvergne.

“No,” was his concise and unequivocal answer when asked if any discussions had taken place. “I have a contract until 2023 and, at this point, I’m committed to doing the job I’m doing here,” he added when pressed.

It was a textbook response to transfer speculation, but several minutes later, after discussing the challenges he and his team have faced during this Covid-blighted season, Cockerill’s attitude had softened slightly.

“I suppose so, yes,” he replied, when asked if joining one of the biggest and richest clubs in France might be a more satisfying proposition. “I don’t really have anything to say to that. I am the Edinburgh coach and we are at where we are at,” he added.


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In fairness to Cockerill, at no time did he indicate that he was unhappy at Edinburgh or looking for a way out. He spoke passionately about his determination to drive the team forward. But neither did he shy away from the significant obstacles which stand in his way as an ambitious coach.

“We are obviously disrupted for all sorts of reasons but we will be better for it, better for the [young/fringe] guys getting opportunities to play and getting a lot of reps in training,” he said. “You just hope that you see more of your internationals. It’s impossible for Edinburgh to compete when we lose 13 or 14 guys every time there is a Test weekend, especially with Test weekends being as long as they are at the moment.

“We have to understand where we are at for this season at Edinburgh rugby,” he continued. “We are disappointed because there were close games we could have done better in and that would have helped, but ultimately we haven’t been good enough to compete on a regular basis for all sorts of reasons.

“Our season has been very long. It started in the beginning of August. We’ve got people missing. We just haven’t got the depth of squad. We’ve learned about some guys who have got good to game-time and there are guys who will get more game-time in the next couple of months in the Rainbow Cup. We now build for next season, whatever that looks like.”

Cockerill’s job specification is complicated. On the one hand, he is there to win games for Edinburgh, to help develop the brand and grow the fan base, and to his credit he has been a key figure in driving forward the club’s identity. He has been a totemic figure who has very vocally refused to accept the bland standards he inherited. On the other hand, these loss-making entities of Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors have obligations to Scottish rugby’s player pathway, and the two roles are not always compatible.

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It is this tension which will limit the horizons of the Scottish pro game until such time as we get somewhere close to being able to develop homegrown talent at the same sort of rate as we witness across the Irish Sea, because relying on players who have given up on playing international rugby for their own country is an ineffectual stop-gap measure.

“It makes it difficult,” conceded Cockerill, when asked about the number of players Edinburgh provide to the national set-up. “Normally, you would have the Autumn Tests and the players wouldn’t be away for eight weeks as they have been. We have been unlucky with injuries. Bill Mata was missing for a long time, Ben Toolis has hardly been fit all season, Grant Gilchrist was injured for a long time and Stuart McInally has been injured for a long time.

“We only have one senior 10, which is obviously problematic. Duhan van der Merwe, Darcy Graham and Blair Kinghorn have played two games in the same team together and they are our main strike threat. That’s always going to make it difficult.

“Next year, there are supposedly not so many clashes, but we’ll see. It’s very hard to compete. With 24th men and travelling replacements, it is not just guys who are in the 23, you also lose guys who are outside of that. That’s no one’s fault, it’s just the system that has run this season. Hopefully, moving forward, it will be a little bit less congested.”

 

In the meantime, Edinburgh return to Wales on Sunday to play the Dragons. A dead-rubber for them but a must-win game for their opponents who are still in the hunt for Champions Cup qualification (which would be ahead of Glasgow Warriors, ironically).

“We will just have to put together a team that we can find,” said Cockerill. “That’s just how it is. We are out of Europe for next year, which is disappointing, but you just have to deal with what’s in front of you.

Thereafter, they have their final PRO14 game of the season at home to Benetton still to play. Nothing in it for either side, and you have to wonder: why bother?

“It’s an opportunity for guys to play and we want a true league competition,” suggested Cockerill. “I’ve no idea what’s going to happen. Clearly, PRO14 haven’t thought about it prior to now so I’ve no idea.”

There is also a trip to Paris to take on Finn Russell’s Racing 92 in the last 16 of this year’s Champions Cup on Sunday 4th April.

“It will be nice to see some of my players and we can have six or seven days of preparation for playing one of the best teams in Europe,” sighed Cockerill. “It’s hardly stacked in favour, is it?”

Following that, we are expecting the Rainbow Cup – involving current PRO14 teams and the four South African franchises which have jumped ship on Super Rugby – to kick off in mid-April, but no further details have been released yet.

If we’re being honest, the sooner this season is over, and the sooner Edinburgh can start looking forward to kicking off the 2021-22 campaign in their new stadium on the back pitches of the Murrayfield campus, the better.


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About David Barnes 3033 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.

5 Comments

  1. Fair play to Cockers, always gives very honest interviews and comes across very well. It clearly has been a very difficult season and Edinburgh & Glasgow have had it particularly hard with the international guys being away pretty much all season.

    I just hope he has some intention of expanding the game plan a bit next season. We have some excellent attacking players and they’re being underutilised. If Ben Vellacott comes in and is made to box-kick the ball all day long then it’ll be disappointing.

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    • “the international guys being away pretty much all season.”
      Indeed, however, it’s been like that for some years with Autumn 3 internationals and 6 Nations.
      The last 2 years, Glasgow and Edinburgh are not clicking.
      It is a recurent problem for home grown talents to step at pro level.
      Quite hard to find a way for success like the Irish system.

  2. Can Edinburgh can still qualify for next seasons champions cup if they win this seasons champions cup?

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  3. I have a lot of sympathy with Cockers as, as he says, he has been playing with what is essentially a 2nd XV for most of the season. It is a little disappointing that not many of the fringe players have grabbed their chance (Jack Blain being a notable exception) and I guess this lack of depth may explain why Edinburgh have to sign so many NSQ players

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