RICHARD Cockerill has never been a man for half measures, and he is not about to change the habits of a lifetime now he faces the biggest challenge of his rugby career. The former Leicester and England hooker has moved his family to Scotland “lock, stock and barrel” in order to focus fully on the task of revolutionising the culture, and ultimately the performances, of chronically under-achieving Edinburgh.
“That’s important because I’m going to ask a lot of the players so I’m doing exactly the same of myself and my family. The kids have moved school, the wife has left her job which she likes – so I better make it work,” he shrugs, almost apologetically.
“I’m in Colinton, four miles from Murrayfield, so I can be there in 10 minutes any time of the day or night. If we need to be in on Sundays we will be in on Sundays, if we need to be in on Wednesdays at 8pm then we will be there at Wednesday at 8pm. We just need to do what we need to do. I want to be with my family in the city, they are going to be at the games – this is what we are going to do for the next two years … at least the next two years.”
Cockerill forged a reputation during his playing days as a ferocious competitor who took an extreme amount of pride in the jersey he was wearing on any given match day. As a coach (and director of rugby), he carried on that philosophy with his intensity almost certainly part of the reason why the curtain eventually came down on a 23-year relationship with his beloved Leicester in January.
He has since admitted that a dressing-room bust-up was a key moment leading up to his dismissal, and there were various press reports at the time suggesting that a divergence in outlook between Cockerill and head coach Aaron Mauger had created a “toxic” environment.
Cockerill resurrected his reputation and career with a brief but successful stint at Toulon, leading them to a surprise appearance in the Top 14 final in June, before moving to Edinburgh just over a month ago.
He has spoken about having learned from his Leicester demise, but it was clear in his first press appearance at his new club last week that the fire deep inside – which has at times threatened to subsume him – still burns ferociously.
Asked if he has learned from past mistakes, he said: “I’ve made a lot of them. I think the important thing is: make sure you are true to yourself and you believe in what you believe in. I’m very much of the view that if it doesn’t make sense then why are we doing it – just don’t make shit up as you go along. We’re not going to train for the sake of training.
“Even when there is the odd day when you go: f***, I’m not sure. Double your efforts and make sure you believe in yourself again. Because if you don’t believe it, then the players will soon sus you out. And, actually, if you talk sense, and your ideas and your foundations of the game make sense, then everything else will work.
“Ultimately, good people will work hard, and will end up giving you everything they’ve got. Some will be world class and really kick on, some will be what they are – every team has them and that’s OK, too. You have to take a measured view: when you win don’t get too excited; when you lose don’t get too depressed.”
Cockerill’s assessment of Edinburgh’s recent history was also brutally honest.
“People keep telling me the Edinburgh crowd is really quiet. Well, I’m not f***ing surprised – we’ve given them f*** all to cheer about,” he said. “I want the players to roll their sleeves up, grit their teeth, and get into the middle of it – so that the people who come to watch can see that. Darcy Graham cares, Blair Kinghorn cares, Ben Toolis is in the middle of the shit-fight and Ross Ford [pictured] is leading the charge. Because, actually, that’s what we identify with. That’s what we cheer about.
“We’re not amateurs. It’s not a gentleman’s club where we all come to have a good time. We’re here to win and be as good as we can be.”
The SRU have invested in a new head coach but their contribution towards replenishing a squad which finished a woeful ninth last season has been minimal. Robbie Fruean from Bath, and Mark Bennett from Glasgow Warriors (who has injured his knee and is unlikely to play before Christmas) are the only new signings with genuine credentials as top-level professionals.
“I think we have to evolve a little bit. You can come in and just wipe everyone away and start again, but where do you start from? I need to see the players play, I need to see them in that environment, I need to see what their value is – and some of that isn’t about being the world’s best player, it is about being a good, hard, committed, out-there-every-week-and-doing-their-bloody-best-for-you player,” said Cockerill, in a rare burst of diplomacy.
“Over time, when the opportunity and the money is available, we will make changes as we see fit, but if I bring anyone into the squad I want them to be better than what we’ve got.
“Do we want to have a group that is built on young Scottish players who will grow up together, and will come through with a few shit results along the way? Or do we just want to go into the market place and spend twice as much money and buy a team that will give us success today?
“I think we all know the answer to that.”
Source : HeraldScotland