‘This is not a problem that is going to go away’ – Richard Cockerill

Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill warns of some tough times ahead for both of Scotland's two pro teams

Richard Cockerill has warned that Scotland's pro teams need to get used to a harsh new reality. Image: ©Craig Watson
Richard Cockerill has warned that Scotland's pro teams need to get used to a harsh new reality. Image: ©Craig Watson

EDINBURGH head coach Richard Cockerill has warned of a bleak future for Scottish pro teams beyond the end of the current Covid-blighted campaign, as they struggle to stay competitive whilst reconciling lack of player depth, budget deficits compared to the top teams in Europe, and the demands being made on the squad by the international game.

Having watched his side slump to a 14-43 defeat to Ulster at home on Monday night, the no-nonsense Englishman – who took over the Edinburgh job in the summer of 2017 – was in no mood to soft-soap the harsh reality of the situation.

Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors have managed just two wins apiece so far in the 2020-21 PRO14 campaign, having played seven games each, leaving the rest of the season looking more like an exercise in damage limitation rather than a quest to reach the play-offs.

“This is not a problem that is going to go away, is it?” said Cockerill. “Our funds are going to get less, not more. Therein lies the trick of trying to manage this squad while having double figures of Scotland players away though Test match windows, and [we are] moving forward with smaller budgets.

“The concern for me is that this is going to be more of the norm. We were getting to the point where we were starting to compete with teams and my concern is that our budgets will be smaller for next year. That is just the nature of it.

“Our competitors don’t seem to be losing players, or cutting budgets like we have, and Glasgow are the same. People have to understand where we are at. We have no [extra] budget and there will be none made available.”

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Cockerill led Edinburgh to a top place finish in their PRO14 conference last season, as well as the last eight of the Challenge Cup, but has not been able to build on that squad meaning he must now rely on a number of unproven youngsters and converted sevens-specialists to take on opposing sides filled with seasoned professionals (many of them internationalists) complemented by emerging players who have been able to hit the ground running.

“If you look at Ulster over the summer, they recruited an All Black nine [Alby Mathewson] and an Irish international ten [Ian Madigan], while we lost our second choice ten in Simon Hickey, we lost Matt Scott, and we are not replacing them at all,” he reasoned.

Despite his very obvious frustration, Cockerill insisted that he has no plans to walk away from the Edinburgh role.

“My job is to coach this team and work with my bosses and work through this,” he stated. “[So I’ll] work with Jim Mallinder [the Director of Performance Rugby] and Mark Dodson [Scottish Rugby’s Chief Executive] and we have to get through the other side of this.”

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Edinburgh now have a weekend off before their 13-strong international contingent return to camp next Monday morning to start preparation for their European Champions Cup campaign opener against La Rochelle the following Saturday [12th December].

“We will get them back but I don’t know where they will be at,” shrugged Cockerill. “It is always tough. We’ve never had an eight-week Autumn Nations Cup before and there is usually a post Six Nations hangover.

“The guys want to come back to play for their clubs but physically and mentally we will see where they are at. Some will have played a lot and some will not have played at all in the last three or four weeks. It is a less than perfect combination.

“We will pick as strong a side as we can in Europe and go as hard as we can. We’ve got to keep learning how to play and try to win those games. It is going to be very difficult across the two competitions this year and it doesn’t take a genius to work that out.”

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About David Barnes 4028 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. I do think that we need another pro team far to many young Scottish players not getting game time to improve.Also their should be a cutback on overseas players who can be a hit or a miss.

  2. We need to look at a culture change in youth development. There appears to be an expectation that oven ready players drop from the Sky and if you need more, you just get out the cheque book. Access to excellent rugby coaching from an early age needs significant improvement and the SRU, like every organisation will only create sustainable, high quality, pathways by truly integrating with state education systems.

  3. For me the problem is part structure part people.

    Mark Dodson informed us last week at AGM2 that we employed 158 players, surely enough to populate two pro-teams and a Scotland Squad at the same time?

    But no, we have a completely fragmented structure with people who appear not to speak to each other.

    Recently we have had Danny Wilson surprised that Gregor Townsend was not releasing more players. How come?

    The structure, and the lack of pro squad rotation and lack of player release to Premiership/now S6 (by successive Edinburgh and Glasgow Coaches) sees fringe pros get very little game time. 25 years after the game going professional and we have still to crack this.

    The influx of average overseas imports also prevents Scottish qualified players getting game time. The above mentioned Hickey was not the first to come and go without setting the world on fire, but probably the most expensive rumoured to be £300k/annum. In his time Edinburgh had two non-scottish qualified 10s. Why? With four more overseas players signed this year it says to S6 players “none of you are good enough”. The Premiership was deemed “Not fit for purpose” have the E & G coaches decided the same about S6 without talking to anyone?

    S6 in turn had squads which saw many get little game time in the first season, and could not play down because of agreement required to make S6 work without more impact on the club game below.

    Added to this we have the Sevens Squad who are likely to see no games for months.

    So lots of players getting very little game time, which is bad business, bad for player development, bad for player preparation.

    And we wonder why they don’t finally shine when given the opportunity when finally presented?

    At least some of these players are at last getting game time, this can only be a good thing in the medium term.

    An integrated structure with everyone pulling together and players able to move up and down to get game time, and more dialogue between levels, would be even better.

    Something for Mr Mallinder to get his teeth into?

  4. @ High flier. As Cockerill says, money is scarce at present, although there’s probably a debate to be had whether more of those funds could be allocated to pro player squads and less to SRU management.
    I read somewhere there are around 140 players out of 450 employees on SRU books, which doesn’t compare well with the IRFU’s 210 players from 480 staff for example.

  5. @high flier

    I didn’t “blame” Dodson and Mallender. I’m quoting Cockerill and saying he is right to ask them to sort the problem.

  6. We need to have a third pro team. Connaught started as a development side and this could be our route. We seem to have lots of “pro” players, all Scottish qualified, but who simply do not play on a regular basis. I do not know exactly what Lee Jones position was but he had not played for about two years before selection the other night. If it was injury then I am glad to see this talented player back. If it was simply not being selected then he becomes an example of what I am talking about.

    The Super 6 is a good idea and it is unfortunate that Covid has meant the league has not so far got off the ground. We should be aiming within two years of rugby’s return (September 2021 ?) to set up a third pro team using the best of Super 6 (both players and coaches). Super 6 can still continue as the halfway house between amateur and pro.

    It is not going to get easier. Richard Cockerill, eloquent as ever, has set out the position with regard to Ireland but the Welsh are regrouping, the Italians are getting stronger, the Georgians are coming (to both “Six” Nations and Pro 12/!4/16) and of course the South Africans will clean up in the Pro 12/14/16 from their first season and this will lead to “Six” Nations involvement.

    Scotland may have to drop down a tier. If it is a fact of our low playing numbers and perhaps skill levels then so be it but we must try to avoid it.

  7. @Dom Ward. You have just contradicted yourself. You blame Dodson and Mallinder but then go on to ask what 100 pro players are doing? Hasn’t Dodson (for all his faults and large salary) created the budget to allow these 100 players? Unlike many countries including England I believe, we haven’t disbanded our 7’s team. Like it or not, there’s only a finite amount of money these days.

    I’d also ask why the players aren’t stepping up when they have the chance

  8. Surely, amongst other things, a sign that the SRU should scrap the overseas scouts and invest the salary the recieve into placing pro coaches in the state school rugby academies, that would increase the home grown player base.. Then get young players game time by hosting a-team fixtures at local clubs surrounding Edinburgh and Glasgow.

  9. His frustration is completely understandable and he is right to point to Mallender and Dodson as the people to address his issues.

    It’s almost as if you need a really healthy club game with a much larger playing pool feeding into a professional tier which then provides the national squad.

    I wonder what the senior make player numbers are?

    It’s also a fact that we have over 100 professional players. Many more if you include the academy. What are all these players doing if they aren’t able to step up into the team?


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