Richard Cockerill rings the changes and demands consistency from Edinburgh

Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

EDINBURGH have got off to a flying start in the PRO14 under Richard Cockerill, winning their first two games. But, as he prepared for what should be a third win on the trot tonight against Benetton, the head coach warned that an enduring improvement to his new team – and to the size of the crowd they attract to their home fixtures – will take years, not weeks, to bring about.

Since taking over in the summer, Cockerill has insisted that his players cannot afford to get ahead of themselves, and that, until they can prove otherwise, they should be regarded as what they have been in the past, a bottom-four team. Given their unusual position of being strong favourites against the Italians at Myreside, it is unsurprising that the coach should have chosen this week to emphasise the importance of avoiding complacency.

The gulf between Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors has been glaringly obvious on the field of play in recent seasons, and last week it was evident too in the size of the crowds the teams attracted to their opening home games: the usual sell-out of 7,351 at Scotstoun, but just 3,324 at Myreside. Bigger crowds, as Cockerill said, should result largely from consistently better performances.

It didn’t happen at Glasgow overnight did it? It’s probably taken six, seven years for them to get where they are today. We’ve got to start on the process. I’d love the place to sell out and have a really hostile atmosphere for the guys to play in front of, but that works both ways. We’ve got to prove we are worth coming to watch. “Hopefully we can do that again tomorrow night then put our best game on the field at the champions [Scarlets] the week after. That’s our responsibility. I would love the place to be full and build the atmosphere, but it’s going to take a bit of time. We need to keep performing, get decent results and put in a good show of commitment, good play, tries and winning, because people want to be associated with a winning team. Then hopefully the crowds will start to get to 4,500, 5,000 and, within reason, start to sell out.

“Any crowd that is partisan at home is important. It inspires the team, discourages the opposition and influences the officials to a point. It’s a great stadium at Myreside, a great pitch, a lot of work has gone in. We’ve made huge strides to make it a better experience. Players are going into the public bar after the game and socialising with supporters, which is really important for me.

“We are starting to try and build something that is different and is a proper rugby club. That will take some time; there’s been one home game. We will look to make it better this week, both performance-wise and access to the players and making sure we are part of a proper rugby club with the supporters. We need to build on that week on week.”

The team charged by Cockerill with building on that tonight shows six changes from the one which began against the Dragons last Friday. The only alteration behind the scrum sees Nathan Fowles come in at scrum-half for Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, while in the front row there are starts for Ross Ford in place of the injured Stuart McInally and Simon Berghan instead of Willem Nel. Anton Bresler is at lock instead of Grant Gilchrist, and in the back row John Hardie and Cornell du Preez replace Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie respectively.

“Fowles has been very good off the bench,” Cockerill said when asked to explain those changes. “His service is very quick and very sharp, he’s very quick to the ball and he kicks the ball very well. So I’m looking for that from Nathan: I want to keep the game quick. And also it keeps Sam on his toes for selection. They’re both very good nines and I want to create competition there. Sean Kennedy can come in as well – he’s had a few injuries pre-season and at the moment he’s not available.

“McInally had some stitches in his ear. It was quite a nasty cut around the joint in his ear. He’ll be available next week, it’s just at the moment it’s too sore and there’s too much risk of infection on the wound.

“Ford may well have started anyway. The rest is just using our squad. We’ve got some depth in certain positions and I want to keep the squad fresh, but also try and build some combinations and get game time for the guys.”

One way in which a lasting improvement from Edinburgh can be gauged will be their ability to handle the pressure of being favourites in games such as this. Many Scottish teams have felt uncomfortable in such a position, but Cockerill is convinced that learning to deal with it is a vital aspect of a side’s growing maturity.

“We have to live with that pressure; it’s a good pressure to have. We have to turn up and perform. We’re expected to win, so we have to make sure we deliver. That’s just normal for me. The lads have to make sure they don’t just turn up and wait to see how good Treviso are before we decide how we’re going to play.”

 

Edinburgh (v Benetton at Myreside, Friday 15 September, 7.35pm): B Kinghorn; D Hoyland, C Dean, R Fruean, J Harries; D Weir, N Fowles; M Rizzo, R Ford, S Berghan, A Bresler, B Toolis, M Bradbury, J Hardie, C du Preez. Substitutes: N Cochrane, D Marfo, W Nel, F McKenzie, H Watson, S Hidalgo-Clyne, J Tovey, J Rasolea.

 

Benetton: J Hayward; A Esposito, A Sgarbi, T Allan, T Benvenuti; I McKinley, E Gori; A de Marchi, E Makelara, T Pasquali, M Lazzaroni, F Ruzza, F Minto, A Steyn, D Budd. Substitutes: F Zani, C Traore, S Ferrari, M Fuser, M Barbini, G Bronzini, L Sperandio, M Zanon.

 

About Stuart Bathgate 1131 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.