Richard Cockerill intent on keeping his out of contract stars at Edinburgh

Head coach says negotiations are ongoing with Duhan van Der Merwe and other leading players

Richard Cockerill is going to have to juggle a few balls to make sure the likes of Jamie Ritchie stay on at Edinburgh after the end of their current contracts. Image: © Craig Watson -
Richard Cockerill is going to have to juggle a few balls to make sure the likes of Jamie Ritchie stay on at Edinburgh after the end of their current contracts. Image: © Craig Watson -

RICHARD COCKERILL says that talks are ongoing to keep all Edinburgh’s soon to be out of contract stars at the club – although he acknowledges that this is easier said than done given inevitable interest from England and France.

It was reported over the weekend that Duhan van der Merwe – a South African-born winger who picked up his first five caps for Scotland during the Autumn having recently qualified through the three-year residency rule – is poised to join Worcester Warriors next season.

Fellow winger Darcy Graham, full-back Blair Kinghorn, flankers Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson, and Fijian No8 Viliame Mata, are among the other leading squad members out of contract at the end of the season.

All are bound to attract interest from outside Scotland – but Cockerill insists nobody has jumped ship yet.

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“Like all our players who are out of contract and we want to keep, we are having discussions and we don’t really comment on speculation,” said Cockerill.

“There is going to be lots of guys interested in certain players because they are very good players, so at this point there is nothing to report other than we want to keep our best players and we’re doing everything we can to achieve that.

“There is always going to be speculation, especially around players of that quality.”

Buyers market

The market is in a state of flux at the moment due to the impact of Covid-19, but Gloucester demonstrated earlier today [Tuesday] that there is money to be spent in England if required, by announcing their recruitment of Scotland stand-off Adam Hastings from Glasgow Warriors.

Scottish Rugby, meanwhile, has been active in recent weeks signing unheralded overseas players on short-term contracts to shore up the squads of the two pro teams – but there is growing anxiety that Murrayfield’s perilous financial position means that Edinburgh and Glasgow are going to struggle to agree terms with their existing marquee players.

Both pro teams are dealing with budget freezes understood to be in the region of 33 percent of what they had to spend last year, and any change in that situation will be dependent on whether the business can recover from the shock of the Covid crisis.

A £20million government support package last week will have eased the pressure, and Scottish Rugby has now received £17.8million from its share in the deal to sell a 28 percent stake in the Guinness PRO14 to CVC Private equity house. Meanwhile, £20.3million worth of borrowing facilities have been procured from the bank and an unspecified ‘advance of grant’ from World Rugby have been secured.

But the financial position remains shaky, meaning that Cockerill, and Danny Wilson at Glasgow, cannot expect significant cash boosts any time soon as they look to build towards next season.

“We’re having headline conversations,” said Scottish Rugby Chief Executive Mark Dodson when asked about contract renewal negotiations three weeks ago. “We’re probably later to the market, but everyone is late to the market this year. 

“We, like Ireland and to some extent Wales, needed to secure our own position before we even started having those headline conversations. There are a lot of guys who feel we’re at a really exciting juncture in Scottish rugby. We’re going through a transition in Glasgow, and Cockers is trying to get a winning style of play at Edinburgh, which he’s clear about. The national team is much more competitive than it was this time last year.

“Most of the players are enthusiastic about staying, but we haven’t had any real deep, meaningful conversations yet. We have to wait and get this year out of the way.

Things may have moved on since then but it remains a fluid situation.

“I think all clubs are in the same boat, aren’t they? Everyone has got to manage their finances, and, obviously, as a governing body, we are trying to make sure we look after the game as a whole and not just as a professional game,” said Cockerill.

“Of course, like every club, there is going to be slight changes in how we operate, but at this point we are working with the Union and the Board to try and do our business as well as we can to be as competitive as we can.

“Our thoughts are around keeping all our players,” he reiterated. “We’re working with the Union and that narrative changes on a weekly basis around potential crowds [ticket income accounted for around a quarter of Scottish Rugby revenue before Covid]. Can we get half-crowds into the Six Nations, potentially? We don’t know yet.

Moveable feast

“There has been some changes in Government funding and grants in the last few weeks, so then you have to trust the Union to see where that money is best spent for the game.

“It’s a bit of a moveable feast at the moment around what’s happening, so you’ve got to be a little bit flexible and a little bit patient. We’re working with all the players as best we can to try to keep the squad together and keep our best players in Scotland.

“We’re having conversations all the time with agents. As the English season has only just started, the Premiership will be later than normal at looking for players – and their finances are fragile, shall we say, with salary caps changing and all these types of things.

“Certain clubs in England are in a stronger position than others so some agents want to wait, and some players want to wait and see what the potential English market looks like.

“No one really knows what the market is going to be like. For some players in key positions the market is still going to be very strong.

“We’ll keep all lines of communication open and do our very best to keep our squad together and our players at Edinburgh Rugby.”

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It is, of course, not just about the money. With players rightly aware that they have a limited period at the peak of their powers, and understandably keen to be at clubs which will help them achieve as much out of their career as possible, Edinburgh (and Glasgow) need to be seen as forward-moving clubs.

After three years of steady progress under Cockerill, Edinburgh have struggled so far this season – lacking the depth to cope with having as many as 13 players away on international duty during the extended Autumn international window.

Cockerill says he is confident that his club can still be a haven for talented and ambitious players.

“We want to be competitive as an Edinburgh team,” he stressed. “Guys want to play for their country and this is a good place to be to play for Scotland.

“We’re all here to compete but there is only one team that can win a trophy each year in the PRO14 so there are always going to be 13 who will be disappointed.

“We’re not going to be a team who buys 30 superstars and wins the trophy in 12 months’ time. We’ve got to build our squad and keep it together. That may be difficult at times because all teams, whether you are a Leicester or Toulon, or here, you are always vulnerable to people trying to recruit your players. That’s the nature of the business

“We’ve recruited well, we’ve managed to keep our squad together and as we saw on Saturday against a very good side [La Rochelle], when we’ve got players available and we are all fit and healthy, we are more than capable of competing.”

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About David Barnes 3956 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.

1 Comment

  1. Exceptionally difficult situation for both Cockerill and Wilson, who must both be having sleepless nights trying to push water uphill with little more than a sheet of recycled A4.

    While they each deserve our sympathy and support, the SRU will, in turn, require to tread with extreme care should it attempt to throw excessive amounts of their recently-awarded Scottish Government megabucks “windfall” funding (that might otherwise go to support Member Clubs in communities across the country) at their two ailing, under-performing ProTeams in a belated attempt to buy success.

    No doubt a potential topic for discussion at the curiously-scheduled virtual AGM3…?


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