Richard Cockerill rages at PRO14 fixture pile-up

Edinburgh coach says two games in five days for his team shows no regard for player welfare

Richard Cockerill. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson.

RICHARD Cockerill has issued a scathing condemnation of the PRO14’s match scheduling, declaring that whoever arranged for Edinburgh to play two away games in the space of five days needs their head examined. Cockerill’s team play the Dragons in Newport tomorrow (Sunday), then go to Ireland to play Munster on Friday, and to make matters worse, a significant number of his leading international players will be unavailable for both matches.

Darcy Graham and Ben Toolis have both been released by Scotland for the match in Wales, but Toolis will need to be rested next week – as will many of the players who are on international duty this weekend. The onus will therefore be on some highly inexperienced players to front up twice in quick succession, leading the head coach to argue that from the point of view of player welfare the fixture arrangements could hardly be worse.

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“It’s not ideal that we play at 5.30pm on a Sunday afternoon and then play the following Friday night in Cork, both games being away from home in the middle of an international window,” Cockerill said. “Whoever scheduled this in the PRO14 needs their head looking at. It’s ridiculous. You’re in the middle of an international window and you get a five-day turnaround.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous for player welfare. Whoever put this together clearly didn’t think it out properly.

“It [the Dragons game] was originally meant to be a 1pm kick-off. It then got changed to 5.30pm without any consultation with ourselves. We’ll be getting home past midnight and into Monday morning – and then we’ll be playing again four-and-a-half days later.

“All of this with a really small squad because of the international window. It just needs to be a little bit more thought out.

“We tried to get an earlier kick-off and change the kick-off time because it made sense. But we weren’t allowed for that to happen. It won’t affect us this week. It’ll just affect us going into the Munster game.

“When you look at the fixture list, you’re going to know that the two Scottish clubs are going to be missing a lot of their players at this point in the calendar. To have a five-day turnaround, you know. Six days is OK, seven would be preferable. To have five days, with both games away from home, is a tough one.”

Unfair but no excuse

Toolis moves from lock to blindside for the match against opponents who welcome back Tyler Morgan, Jared Rosser and Hallam Amos from the Wales squad. Edinburgh have yet to record an away win in the league this season, but Cockerill believes they can return victorious from this one if they play to their potential. “Sunday is a really important game, and we’ve got to get it right and we need to win,” the coach continued. “I am expecting them to perform. If we perform, then I expect us to go with the mentality to win the game.

“We’ve got to play very well. We showed against Scarlets that if we play to the levels we know we can, then we’re good enough to win these sort of games. On the contrary, we went to Zebre and did some poor things, having had a good lead, and we lost.

“These are crucial games that will decide who ends up in the play-off spots. We’ve got the best part of 20 players missing – and the majority of those are our best players.

“The depth of our squad is being tested. We’ve prepared as well as we can. But, with the budget that we spend, to lose that many players is always going to be an issue for us. But we’ll go there, play as hard as we can, and we’re going there to win.”

Jackman suspended

Dragons will not have their head coach Bernard Jackman overseeing the game on Sunday. The former Ireland hooker was handed a four week stadium ban [two weeks suspended] from the club’s matches by the Welsh Rugby Union for a break of the employers’ code of conduct in relation to comments regarding the refereeing of his side’s loss to Cardiff Blues on 6th October.

Dragons (v Edinburgh at Rodney Parade, Sunday 5.30pm, live on Premier Sports and S4C): J Williams; J Rosser, T Morgan, J Sage, H Amos; J Tovey, R Williams; R Bevington, R Hibbard, L Fairbrother, R Landman, L Evans, H Keddie, N Cudd, O Griffiths. Subs: R Lawrence, A Jarvis, L Brown, B Nansen, J Benjamin, R Davies, A Robson, A Warren.

Edinburgh: D Fife; D Graham, J Johnstone, C Dean, D van der Merwe; S Hickey, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, R Ford, P Ceccarelli, J Hodgson, C Hunter-Hill, B Toolis, A Miller, L Hamilton: Subs: D Cherry, R Sutherland, M McCallum, C Atkinson, L Wynne, S Kennedy, J van der Walt, J Pablo Socino.

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About Stuart Bathgate 1427 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.