Cock­er­ill’s call I’m not right fit for Eng­land

Ed­in­burgh’s Richard Cock­er­ill ex­plains how he has turned the club into a gen­uine force

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - Mick Cleary RUGBY COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Two years ago al­most to the day, Richard Cock­er­ill ar­rived in Toulon, still numb from be­ing sacked by Le­ices­ter, won­der­ing how he would “fill the void”, but en­tirely grate­ful to Mike Ford for giv­ing him an im­me­di­ate pick-me-up op­por­tu­nity as in­terim for­wards coach at the three-time Eu­ro­pean cham­pi­ons.

To­day, Cock­er­ill re­turns to the Stade Mayol with his Ed­in­burgh team top­ping Pool 5 in the Cham­pi­ons Cup, primed to qual­ify for the knock­out stages and well placed also in the Pro14. Toulon, mean­while, are on their up­pers. It is some transformation in for­tunes, to the point where Cock­er­ill has even been men­tioned in Rugby Foot­ball Union dis­patches as a pos­si­ble can­di­date to suc­ceed Ed­die Jones.

“The only time the RFU used to men­tion me was when they were ban­ning me for foul lan­guage and ha­rangu­ing ref­er­ees,” says Cock­er­ill with a chuckle at his Mur­ray­field base. “The Eng­land job is nowhere near my radar, al­though I would like to coach at in­ter­na­tional level one day. What I have come to re­alise is that a club or an op­por­tu­nity has to be the right fit for both par­ties. I’m not sure I’m the right fit for Eng­land. My skill-set is not to ev­ery­one’s taste.”

It was to the taste of Ed­in­burgh. They had signed up Cock­er­ill within a cou­ple of months of his ar­rival at Toulon, where he even­tu­ally took over from Ford for the last cou­ple of months of that sea­son, win­ning seven of his eight games in charge, his only de­feat com­ing in the fi­nal of the Top 14.

It would be easy to say that what you see with Cock­er­ill is what you get. The shaven-headed, bulging-eyed taskmas­ter is the ob­vi­ous trope, the bloke with whom you mess at your peril.

“To be fair, I do play to that im­age,” says Cock­er­ill, sens­ing that he is about to be un­masked as some­thing of more sub­stance, which he is.

“Peo­ple are a bit wary of me and I quite like that. It’s true that some will look at my CV and the way I have been and think I’m not bright enough or sharp or lay­ered enough to coach at Test or the very high­est lev­els. But I make no apolo­gies for the way I am.”

As Ed­in­burgh quickly found out. The team were the runt of the Scot­tish lit­ter, unloved and un­pro­duc­tive. Glas­gow War­riors were the dar­lings, with more fund­ing and more ca­chet. Cock­er­ill gath­ered the squad to­gether at St An­drews Uni­ver­sity for a pre-sea­son camp when he took over in the sum­mer of 2017.

“I told them they had fin­ished in the bot­tom four for the last seven years so they hadn’t much of a case when it came to chal­leng­ing me,” says Cock­er­ill. “In for break­fast at 7.30am ev­ery day, no phones, tidy up, on time, right kit, Sun­day train­ing – I didn’t want to be in on Sun­days ei­ther, I told them, but nor did I want to be c--- when we played the fol­low­ing Fri­day – my ba­sic val­ues and no ar­gu­ments.

“There were 20 in­ter­na­tional play­ers, but the team was like a hold­ing pen for the Test team, all cir­cling over­head wait­ing for the Scot­land call-up rather than get­ting stuck into the day job of mak­ing Ed­in­burgh a side with hunger and desire. Yes, there were a few truths laid bare. Like it or lump it. I had no idea how it would work out.”

The shock-and-awe tactics have worked. Ed­in­burgh did the dou­ble over Glas­gow over Christ­mas and, in­deed, Cock­er­ill has won four of the five en­coun­ters with Scot­land’s other fran­chise, who are coached by New Zealan­der Dave Ren­nie, a man linked with pu­ta­tive All Black posts.

Cock­er­ill is happy in his own skin and own cir­cum­stances. He has ex­tended his con­tract to 2021 and is about to con­clude a house pur­chase in the city for his wife and three chil­dren.

Has he gone over to the other side, an adopted Scot? “No, I’m Le­ices­ter through and through, English too and I will never wear a skirt [kilt]. But, yes, part of my brief here is to de­velop Scot­tish tal­ent, bring through play­ers such as, say, young Jamie Hodgson, who I picked as an ama­teur be­cause of in­juries we had. In Eng­land, I’d have bought in some­one on a short-term deal.

“There is no rel­e­ga­tion in the Pro14 and so I’ve come to un­der­stand there is a big­ger pic­ture in terms of nur­tur­ing the next gen­er­a­tion for Scot­land.”

Cock­er­ill’s re­sources are much less than he had at Le­ices­ter, spend­ing 60-70 per cent of the £7 mil­lion salary cap that ex­ists in the Premier­ship. The man who hired him, Mark Dod­son, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Scot­tish Rugby Union, gave him a clear brief.

“Ed­in­burgh were not value for money and Mark wanted me to get more bang for his buck,” says Cock­er­ill. “I came in with a bel­liger­ent at­ti­tude, to im­pose dis­ci­pline, to get them graft­ing.”

Even now, belts are tight at Ed­in­burgh. For matches in Wales, the team fly to Bris­tol, get a coach to, say, Llanelli, back on again at 11pm, drive through the night and ar­rive at Mur­ray­field at 8am. “It’s

called the mega bus, but there is noth­ing mega about it,” said Cock­er­ill. “We’ve splashed out on a char­ter, though, to Toulon. Mind you, we’re stay­ing in the Ibis.”

Ed­in­burgh face an in­trigu­ing, per­haps defin­ing eight days. Toulon may be out of the reck­on­ing, but have only ever been beaten twice in Europe at the

‘Peo­ple are a bit wary of me and I quite like that. I make no apolo­gies for who I am’

Mayol, while for­mer Scot­land coach Vern Cot­ter re­turns to Mur­ray­field next week with his Mont­pel­lier team.

“We’re go­ing to give it ev­ery­thing,” said Cock­er­ill. “It will be a great test of our men­tal for­ti­tude. We are far, far from the fin­ished ar­ti­cle. We’re gate­crash­ers in Europe. We were com­pared to Le­ices­ter when we did the Glas­gow dou­ble, al­though I’m not sure it was meant as a com­pli­ment. The boys have seen where hard work can take them. That’s all it is, that’s all it has ever been. I know what it takes to suc­ceed.”

And all in his own inim­itable way.

Transformation: For­mer Le­ices­ter coach Richard Cock­er­ill has worked won­ders dur­ing Mur­ray­field reign

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