‘The reality is we’re not going to win Europe’ – Cockerill

Coach accepts many other Champions Cup contenders are stronger than Edinburgh

Richard Cockerill. Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson.

MOST coaches fudge their answers when asked if their team can win a particular competition, fearing being made hostages to fortune if they predict they will lift the trophy, and worrying about being damned for lack of ambition if they say they are not good enough. Not so Richard Cockerill.

Speaking at the launch of the Heineken Champions Cup in Dublin on Wednesday, the Edinburgh coach had no hesitation in suggesting that his team would not win the competition, for the simple reason that other teams are superior, at least for the time being. “The reality is we’re not going to win Europe, because there are a lot of better teams than us in it,” he said. “The really good thing from an Edinburgh point of view is that we have got to go [up against] Benetton and win, then win against Cheetahs, then we have Zebre [in the PRO14]. For us as a club, we have to learn to play at that level and win in Europe and do our best and try and put our best side out to win those games – as realistic as that might or might not be – and then turn up and do it again. Our Scotland lads have to go and play Test matches.

“We will go and learn to do that. The really good sides, the ones I’ve coached or watched, their players go every week and are playing at that level and learning to be consistent and learning to play at that level. It’s bloody hard. As a team and as a Scottish nation we have to do it.”

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Edinburgh make the short trip to Newcastle in their Champions Cup pool, which also contains Montpellier and Cockerill’s old club Toulon. “It’s a very tough pool,” the coach continued. “The target is to win as many games as we can.

“The budgets of the three teams we’re playing far outspends us, so you have to be realistic. The ambition for us has to be looking to win our home games and away from home give it our best shot. We’ll pick our best side and give it our best shot and go to win. We have to develop and learn from these experiences. because we’ve not had many in the past few years of playing at this level.

“It is a great tournament. I’ve played in quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals and coached in finals. You’re testing yourself against the best.”

Toulon have been champions of Europe three times, but Cockerill believes they are not at present as strong as they were when they won those titles. Montpellier, where former Scotland coach Vern Cotter is now in charge, could be an even tougher proposition, according to Cockerill.

“I don’t think so,” he said, when asked if Toulon were favourites for the pool. “I would say they’re a club in transition from their heyday. They have brought some youth through their system. They have bought in Rhys Webb, [Julian] Savea, they have real quality there which us as a club would not bring in.

“You would never underestimate them, but the rest of the teams in our group will also be very strong. It will be an interesting tournament again.

“I know Vern very well and he is very good, upfront and pragmatic and likes his sides to play with discipline and physicality. He did a great job at Clermont and Scotland and last year apart from one game Montpellier was the best team in France by far.

“Montpellier and Toulon are big European teams who spend a lot of money and have very deep squads.If we had the 20 million Euros Montpellier spend we would have a lot  more depth in our squad, wouldn’t we?”

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About Stuart Bathgate 1412 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.