EDINBURGH head coach Richard Cockerill says he is ready to ‘roll the dice’ with Scotland Under-20s star Nathan Chamberlain as the only specialist back-up to Jaco van der Walt in the crucial stand-off position next season.
The 20-year-old was recruited from Hartpury College last month (initially on an academy deal turning into a full-time contract for the 2021-22 season) and was expected to play mainly in Super6 whilst shadowing van der Walt and Australian recruit Jono Lance at Edinburgh.
However, Lance’s move to the Scottish capital has since fallen through because he couldn’t obtain the required visa and, with Scottish Rugby going through a period if retrenchment , the cash is no longer available to be diverted towards an alternative experienced recruit.
“With the Covid situation we do not have the money back in the pot to go out and buy another 10, which is understandable, so we are going to have to look within that age-group system and the Super6 system to fill that spot and give guys the opportunity,” said Cockerill.
“We have Jaco, and Nathan is now in with us [training] having just moved up [to Edinburgh], so if you do the maths … we have two 10s, one will be playing and one will be on the bench.
“Budgets may ease with time and circumstance, and we may be able to go back into what will be a very different marketplace because there will be players looking for work, but at this point Nathan has done a very good job in the 20s, especially that last game against Wales, so he gets his opportunity to come to a pro team. The chance is there for him to grasp and take on.
“It’s not the perfect scenario,” the coach conceded. “Nathan has not played a huge amount of first-class rugby, or any at this point, but one niggle for Jaco and he could be starting at Murrayfield against Glasgow on the 22nd. That’s great, but you are working with the unknown.
“It is always an evolving thing around budgets and all those other things. We still work on a smaller budget than Glasgow so we have to be smart around our recruitment,” he added, by way of a reminder to frustrated Warriors fans that the lack of activity on the recruitment front at their club is not a total injustice.
Cockerill added that Cammy Scott, another academy player who doesn’t celebrate his 19th birthday until September, could also get a chance at some point this season, as could James Dalgleish, a Scottish qualified stand-off from Australia who has been recruited by Watsonians.
“We also have Cammy Scott, who sat on the bench for the 20s, so we have both of the age group 10s,” he said. “They are both here training with us and contracted to us. We will look into the Super6 as well to see what is there. There is one Scottish qualified 10 who has come into the Super6 who we will have a look at.
“Sometimes young players come through and show you that they just need the opportunity, as Adam Hastings has done at Glasgow since he came from Bath. He had a little bit more experience than Nathan, but Nathan will get his opportunities. As a coach you would like a little more experience in that position, of course you would, but we are at where we are at.
Horses for courses
Blair Kinghorn played principally at stand-off whilst coming through the age-grade ranks but has established himself in the senior game as a back-three player, and Cockerill says he would be reluctant to move the 23-year-old back into the heavy traffic at this point in his career.
“Blair’s playing full-back for us, he’s playing wing for the national team, then suddenly he’s playing 10 for us … is that an option? For me at this point, with what we’ve got in our squad, probably not,” the coach reasoned.
“Blair is a world-class full-back. Our counter-attacking game is very good and he’s a big part of that along with our back-three and our back-rowers carrying the ball back.
“He hasn’t played 10 for a long time and when he did, it was bit-part as a youngster. It’s a tough position to play, all the kicking duties – kicking is going to be more and more important with the way the game is being refereed – and the thinking time. At full-back you get a little bit more time to think, at 10 it’s the split-second decision making that is key, so I think for us the best thing to do is, whoever that other 10 is, Chamberlain, Cammy Scott, whoever it is, we develop them and bring them through. They will be SQ [Scottish Qualified].
“Everyone cries out ‘let’s roll the dice and give the young lads a go’! Well, we’re going to roll the dice and the young lads will get a go. Let’s hope it works!”
Two men short
Cockerill added that the retrenchment process Scottish Rugby is now going through has left him two players short of the squad size he was initially looking for.
“We were looking at the back-three because we think we’re going to lose three guys to Scotland [Kinghorn, Darcy Graham and recently qualified Duhan van der Merwe],” he said. “Jono Lance would’ve helped us because he plays 10 and 15.
“And we were probably trying to bolster the back-row as well because we’re going to lose so many players [during the international window] and you’ve got to rotate and rest.”
Cockerill is out of contract next summer and there has been speculation that he could be gobbled up by an English Premiership club, but the coach says he is in no rush to curtail the project he is currently working on in the Scottish capital.
“If the Union want me to stay on then I am very open to that, I have never alluded to anything different,” he said. “We’ve got a good group of players, a new stadium, we are headed in the right direction, so it is all positive in terms of an Edinburgh point of view. Things are going to slightly different now because of budget and those sorts of things but you just have to work with it, the whole world is in a difficult place at the moment. So, I’d be happy to stay but there are a few things to discuss before we get to that point, I’m sure.”
He had been linked to a move this summer to Gloucester but says that idea never really got off the ground.
“I was aware that they had made contact with my agent and we had a discussion around that, and it was nothing more than that,” he explained. “I am very committed here, I think that is an important thing to be because I am going to ask a lot of the players, so it is the same broken record from three years ago when I first joined.
“It is always flattering to be associated with different jobs, they are a good club and I’m sure they will get the person who is right for them, but at this moment in time that is not me.”
He added that he believes Edinburgh has the potential to be the club which delivers the success that all ambitious coaches crave, so long as his employers are able and willing to give him the appropriate level of assistance.
“I don’t think you necessarily have to move to the Premiership or to France for that [success], there is a good player-base here, there’s lots of positive things happening, so we just have to make it work here,” he said.
“There is lots of things around that – such as funding, where we really want to go as pro teams and a slightly different agenda with the national team – but we’re back at the big table in Europe next year, and we’re a couple years more mature than when we reached the quarter-final in my second year, so let’s try to kick-on again.”