Our Season with Edinburgh Rugby: The Coaches

An enlightening feature of covering Edinburgh Rugby this 2018/19 season has been gaining the insight of Edinburgh’s Head Coach Richard Cockerill. From team selection, to the threat an opposition poses, to Edinburgh’s underdog status, Erin McRitchie discusses some highlights.

Richard Cockerill has continued his mission to regenerate Edinburgh Rugby this season. (Photo: The Times)

First impressions

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting walking in to my first Edinburgh press conference. I remember fully preparing myself to acknowledge that I was entering into a still male dominated world – be that the players, coaches, and media – but I had no qualms with that. This was where I wanted to be, covering the sport that I love, it just so happened the only difference was that I would be the only female in the room.

I was pleasantly surprised when, on the occasion of my first appearance at these media meets, Edinburgh’s Head Coach, Richard Cockerill, walked in with a grin on his face, shaking hands with all in attendance whilst sharing a light-hearted joke. When it came to me, he introduced himself and I extended the same courtesy. No questions were asked, no comments made, he simply had a new journalist covering the progress of his team.

It was what happened a couple of weeks later that truly made an impact on me – and I am not even sure anyone in the room even realised how much the small gesture meant to me, including Cockerill himself.

When finishing press conferences, it seemed that Cockerill always uttered a sincere: “Thanks gents.” On this day, I had only been attending them for a couple of weeks, I had asked a few questions, but overall, not done anything of true gravitas. However, as he left, Cockerill offered his usual departing comment, but this time, he extended it to say: “And lady.”

It’s so little, and probably inconsequential, to anyone else, but it did make me smile because, at the end of the day, he didn’t need to do it. It was such a small gesture, but to me, it seemed almost like recognition that I had been accepted into the media pack that he meets with every week.

So, if he hadn’t realised before then how important something so little as that can be, then I hope he does now, and I would like to extend a thank you to Cockerill for the gesture. And also, tell him that I’m just assuming that means I’m allowed back next season!

Insight and analysis

Small gestures aside, his insight has been invaluable when it comes to developing a greater knowledge of all the ins and outs of his Edinburgh side. Obviously, with word counts to adhere to, as well as deadlines, not all the chatter from press conferences makes it in to the reports which are produced by the attending journalists – and so, you find yourself quickly amassing a large amount of inside information.

Throughout the course of the season we have witnessed his jovial nature, his disappointed mutterings, and his continual insistence that Edinburgh are the underdogs. We have listened as he discussed injury lists, up-and-coming youngsters, assistant coaches and opposition threats. And we have laughed as he has addressed player personalities, unexpected results, and the lengths he is prepared to go to in order to keep key players at the club.

Throughout all of that, one thing shines through, and that is the fact that Cockerill is doing everything in his power to better the club. He wants his Edinburgh players to be the best performers in the league it seems – he wants his forwards to rule the set piece and he wants his backs to strike fear into a defence with their unpredictability. He fully appreciates that this will take time, however.

And so, for now, most of his insight will be of tactics to build the durability of the club he presides over, or how to manage unfortunate injuries, or how to build game-upon-game until the perseverance and endurance comes naturally.

I wouldn’t trade a minute of listening to this analysis, because it truly has given me a greater appreciation of not only Edinburgh as a club, but of professional club rugby as a whole.

Getting a professional club through a season takes serious dedication from players and coaches alike. (Photo: Edinburgh Rugby twitter)

Assistant coaches

I’m not quite sure people always appreciate the importance of a strong coaching network – that support is needed for the head coach, not just the players, as no one can do any of it alone. It would be disastrous.

Edinburgh have built up a highly experienced, and driven group of coaching staff since the arrival of Richard Cockerill – in particular, significant praise has to go to attacking coach Duncan Hodge and defence coach Calum MacRae, as well as strength and conditioning coaches Nick Lumley and Alasdair Strokosch.

This core of coaches has banded together to ensure that Edinburgh develops, that the somewhat lacklustre performances that were accepted for so long will no longer make the grade. Every week they seem to be galvanising the players to achieve their true potential – or to at least try for the most obtainable version of it on any given gameday.

In a more light-hearted sense, personally I would like to give praise to lead analyst Paul Larter for the more than evident passion he possesses for the club. The greatest example being that, in sitting in the press box, I have many a time been witness to somewhat of a mini concert – every time Edinburgh achieve victory, he without care, sings along to The Proclaimers as ‘I’m on my way’ plays over the stadium’s loud speakers.

So, I’d just like it to be known that I’ve many a time had a smile on my face, wanting to join in. It’s funny the things a sporting victory will encourage people to do, but I’m always up for an impromptu sing-song.

Best quotes

(1) In the lead up to the first Toulon game in the Champions Cup, Cockerill made one of his intentions for the mentality of the Edinburgh side going forward abundantly clear, in his usual way:

“If it kills me, I am going to get rid of this Scottish trait of ‘we are always going to be second best and we are going to be plucky losers’, because it does my head in. I am an arrogant Englishman and I expect to win, that is just my nature, love it or not.

“Our lads have got to get that streak in us and we have to get it quickly. Now we know the level and know what it takes to play against big teams, we have played away against Montpellier and they were good but we should have won that game. We did enough to win that game we almost deserved to win that game. We have got to knock those frailties.”

(2) When asks about the possibility of signing South African hooker Michael Willemse, back in January when it was but a rumor, Cockerill was quick to clear up how social media can over-analyse things:

“We’re talking to lots of players, he’s one of them. We live in a world of social media where rumors get spun around the whole time. I don’t have anything to tell, really. I might speak to the agent of Keiran Ried but he’s not coming, is he?”

(3) Despite such aforementioned rumors, Cockerill firmly stated that his club is going to be one which develops internally, rather than relying on the acquiring of outside talent. He especially wants to keep back-row stalwart Villiame Mata:

“We are not going to be a selling club. We are a team who are going to develop our players and keep our best players where possible. I won’t be selling anybody ever out of our team that’s doing what Vili’s doing. Or any other player.

“It’s as simple as that. We’ll be making sure we do everything we can to keep our best players at the club because we want to develop and get stronger.”

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