RICHARD COCKERILL has insisted that a lack of natural leadership continues to be a problem not only within the Edinburgh squad, but in Scottish rugby as a whole. Last week’s 25-10 home defeat by Ospreys was the fourth loss in a row for the head coach and his team, and again highlighted the inability to deal with adversity which has troubled Edinburgh in some big games.
A number of key players were missing from the match-day 23, but the Edinburgh line-up nonetheless still included some of the most experienced men in the squad such as Stuart McInally and Grant Gilchrist. Despite that, the home team were outshone by the Welsh side, who appeared to grow in stature as Edinburgh shrank within themselves.
“Ospreys played well: their experience at 9 and 10 and their leadership with Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric – they controlled the game,” Cockerill said. “We weren’t good enough leadership-wise to find a way out of that.
“There’s not many natural leaders within the Scottish game, particularly. I don’t think lack of leadership is necessarily just an Edinburgh issue.
“My experience of working here with other teams is that the Scottish guys are quieter and a bit more subdued. They’re good guys and they work hard but they’re not natural, overt personalities or leaders.
“So we’ve got to keep working on that. They’ve got the knowledge. We’ve just got to get it out of them in the key bits to manage certain situations.”
Insisting that he was attempting an honest assessment of the situation rather than seeking to condemn, Cockerill went on to examine an issue which has been aired frequently in the professional era: the claim that there is a culture of obedience within Scottish rugby which militates against the growth of leadership. “I’m not sure I’d call it damning,” he continued. “I wasn’t trying to be derogatory towards my players, particularly.
“It has been touched on before. We have a lot of nice guys that are good human beings, but when they get on the field they need to know it’s a different scenario. We need to be a little more cussed and a little bit more bloody-minded and we need to be a bit nastier about how we go about our business. We need as many of those people as we can.
“I like guys with opinion. No problem. Most of my guys don’t listen to me most of the time, as you know with the team’s disciplinary record. So they’re not obedient to me.
When the bullets are flying …
“It is pretty well known, whether it is us or the national team, we have to be better at key moments at understanding what needs to be done and what needs to be said and what actually needs to be put in place. Most of the time most guys are born leaders, they naturally want to take responsibility on situations. Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it. When the bullets are flying and you need to calm things down you have to get guys to believe and go in one direction.
“As an Edinburgh group when things are not going our way we need to get a foothold back in the game. At the weekend our individual error count was very, very high. Thus it was not the odd mistake and the odd player making a mistake. It was lots of our key guys making key errors at key times.
“If you look at [Grant] Gilchrist’s yellow card for example. That is leadership in itself. It is not about him speaking, it is about his actions, which were poor in that moment and put us under pressure. That is what we have to keep working at. The guys know it but there is no point knowing it in hindsight. We have to deal with it on the field.
“That cannot always be driven by the coaching staff. It is something we are working on all the time, having our leadership meetings and talking through scenarios. As a coach I’m probably assuming that guys would naturally know what to do in certain situations. We have to keep developing that.”
Rays of sunshine among the dark clouds over Murrayfield
On the injury front, Cockerill has been given some good news and some bad news by his medical staff ahead of Saturday evening’s match in Munster, leading him to declare that there were “some rays of sunshine among the dark clouds over Murrayfield”. Jamie Ritchie will be back after missing out on the Ospreys match because of Covid protocols, and Duhan van der Merwe and Nic Groom will also return from injury.
But even with Ritchie back on board, Edinburgh’s back-row options are still limited, with Bill Mata out for another month or more as he recovers from ankle surgery, and Magnus Bradbury and Luke Crosbie joining the Fijian on the sidelines after being injured last Saturday. “Magnus has a head knock and won’t have gone through the protocols to be available,” Cockerill added. “Luke has a Grade Two hamstring and he will be out for four to six weeks. Jamie is Covid-free and available to play.”
Groom’s return is timely, as Charlie Shiel is out with a Grade One hamstring injury and joins the concussed Henry Pyrgos in missing out. Dan Nutton, who came off the bench for Shiel four days ago to make just his second appearance, is likely to be the replacement scrum-half at Thomond Park. Blair Kinghorn will also miss out after sustaining a stinger to his head and neck in training, but loosehead prop Rory Sutherland trained yesterday and is again available.
Munster are not without problems of their own, having suspended training yesterday after an unnamed senior player returned a positive Covid test and six others were identified as possible close contacts. All seven are self-isolating, and the Irish province are not expected to resume training until tomorrow, though Cockerill does not believe that the enforced mini-break will disadvantage them.
“They will probably be very fresh and eager to go. We’re concentrating on getting our game right and making sure we turn up and play how we can play. I’m not expecting them to be disorganised or under prepared, if I’m honest.”