THERE is one thing you can count on from a Richard Cockerill press conference: nothing is going to be left unsaid.
Yesterday he was still railing against the madness of Edinburgh’s fixture schedule this week, pulled no punches when explaining just how thinly his squad is stretched this week as he tries to put a competitive team on the park against Munster in Cork on Friday night, and warned his SRU employers that they need to start thinking about raising their investment in his team to a level comparable to their great rivals in the west of the country.
Edinburgh lost away to the Dragons in Newport on Friday evening and just five days later they will be over in Cork, which creates huge challenges for Cockerill and his team in terms of getting fresh bodies on the park – especially as there is no scope at the moment to rotate players in and out of the squad.
“You get home at two in the morning and three days later you are in Cork playing again. The scheduling is a bit average,” said the coach, before turning his attention to the selection conundrum he faces this coming weekend.
“I am not going to pick ten international players so there is ten missing for a start,” he said. “The reality is that you could take your best team to Munster and not win. There is no point dragging guys back from two and a half to three Test matches, to take them to Cork because then you compromise Europe for us.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 12)
“We are in a good place in Europe but we have to win three from four as a bare minimum to qualify.
“We physically have not got the numbers to cope with where we are at the moment – to be putting robust enough sides out against sides like Munster and to give it a bash. The reality is we are missing ten internationals … Matt Scott, Mark Bennett … the forwards. With the budget we are on, we promote within or take guys on loan. We are struggling to put a back five together with a bench.
“So, the team this weekend will be the same as last week, less Ben Toolis,” he added. “Lewis Wynne [on loan from London Scottish] will come into back-row, and Nayalo will come back into the 23 after eight weeks of injury. That is what’s we have got.
“It is going to be a challenge isn’t it? We will prepare as well as we can. We travel on Thursday and play Friday night with some tired bodies because it was 48 minutes ball-in-play time at the weekend. When it is high ball in play, the players are playing to their max. It is tough but when you are developing young guys, all together, because of circumstance, there is a bit of pain that comes with it.
“The reality is that the team we take to Munster shouldn’t win but we will prepare as well as we can and go with a mindset to win. The games we have lost we have taken three losing bonus points and we have three try bonus points. We are still in the mix, not a million miles away from the top three. We will keep battling away.”
Among the players who featured for Scotland during this Autumn series who are being rested this weekend are: Blair Kinghorn, Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, WP Nel, Simon Berghan, Stuart McInally and Allan Dell.
Meanwhile, centre Scott – a marquee signing for Edinburgh during the summer – was named in the extended Scotland squad before the start of the series but dropped out due to concussion. He is back in training and Cockerill hopes he will come in to contention for the first Newcastle game, but he won’t be involved on Friday. John Barclay is still targeting early January.
Victims of their own success
“It is part of the evolution of this club that now we are sitting with the Union and saying: ‘How does this work? Maybe we need to look at the funding model of where we are at because this will continue!’
“We’ve been a bit unlucky, we have Fraser McKenzie, Lewis Carmichael and Luke Crosbie out, so it is a little false at the moment because we are missing guys who would normally be with us [at this time of the year] and that puts a magnifying glass on the depth.
“But if we are contributing eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve guys to the national team then at some point we are going to need to have more funding or equal funding across the pro teams.
“But financially, they [Glasgow Warriors] are probably more robust because they sell their stadium out and have a better product. Everyone started somewhere.”
Cockerill added that loose-head prop Darryl Marfo – who came from nowhere to start three games for Scotland last Autumn, but then missed most of the rest of the season with a back injury, and has been stuck playing for Boroughmuir in the Tennent’s Premiership so far this season – will return to Edinburgh’s match-day squad in Cork.