Friday 20 September 2019

Cockerill's core values fueling Edinburgh for Munster raid

Edinburgh boss Richard Corkerill believes his team can give Munster a surprise. Photo: Alex Broadway/Getty Images
Edinburgh boss Richard Corkerill believes his team can give Munster a surprise. Photo: Alex Broadway/Getty Images
David Kelly

David Kelly

Leicester may be the home of the Tigers but there is barely enough room to swing a cat in the press room.

Those who know it appreciate the physical impossibility of trying to stick your chest out while your back is pinned against the wall. Anyone except Richard Cockerill, that is.

Late in 2016, seven days after seeing his side suffer their heaviest European defeat in history, even a narrow, late victory in the return fixture couldn't save him from the increasing focus on the decreasing chances of him keeping his job.

So the head coach did what he had always done, as a fearsome hooker on the field and a combative coach off it. He fought back.

"Some people like you, some don't but I don't really care. I lead from the front. I'm here for the battle until someone tells me I'm not."

A few weeks later, somebody told him he wasn't. After 23 years with the club, the exit cut him deeply.

Turfed out

Unbowed, he took himself to flagging Toulon as an assistant to Mike Ford - until the latter was turfed out - assuming the job himself and hauling the deposed European champions into another Top 14 final.

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

Next stop was Edinburgh. When we met him at the PRO14 launch last September, he was still his scrappy, snarly but sociable self; an enjoyable chat on a day of interminable chatter but we quietly binned the transcript.

Edinburgh? No chance.

And yet here the unloved Scots are, Cockerill priming himself for a third Thomond coup as a head coach in today's quarter-final.

You underestimate Cockerill at your peril. A famed hooker in Leicester's gnarled front-row for a decade, he has lived an A-to-Z rugby life, from staring down Norm Hewitt during the haka to spilling the beans on England, such that Clive Woodward exiled him from his team for good.

Sure, he has made mistakes but honest ones. Mistakes he understands. He doesn't attempt to mask them.

How else, then, could he respond to the whirlwind that afflicted him just a few weeks into his Edinburgh tenure?

Bad enough that his flanker John Hardie was busted for cocaine but then his captain Magnus Bradbury ended up face down in the street after consuming at least one too many.

And so, as Cockerill's team headed to Siberia for a Challenge Cup game, he sent his two miscreants the same way.

Hardie returned but will still be one of 16 players soon to be shipped out; Bradbury has since been rehabilitated. None have spared themselves a backwards glance. "I have to set the right tone for this club," Cockerill had told me last August.

And he has been a man of his word.

"I don't know what it is like before here but if players want to be ill-disciplined, behave in an inappropriate way away from the pitch, or whatever that might be, they choose to exclude themselves from the environment and we will try to get on with what we are trying to do without them.

"Those players who had indiscretions away from the field were left out of the team and we carried on with the players who wanted to be part of what we were doing.

"All those players who have strayed away from our core values have since returned, worked hard and got themselves back in the team. That was it.

"I just had to set my stall out and declare that I wasn't going to take any nonsense from anybody. This is how we operate. And if you don't want to subscribe to those (values), go and play somewhere else. To be fair to the players, they have adhered to that"

Bradbury, perhaps meekly, avers.

"It's been really encouraging," says the Scottish back-rower. "There have been a few crossroads in the early part of the season as you said but luckily we have all made the right choices and worked together as one team.

"We've driven ourselves forward and tried to work as hard as we can."

Cockerill's coaching style would be snootily disregarded by some as old school; yet honesty, hard work and humility surely remain as potent as ever for today's modern pro?

From a working-class family in the English midlands, Cockerill left school at 16 and commenced an apprenticeship in carpentry. Hard work has defined him all his life. Edinburgh has housed soft touches for too long. His way or the high way.

He has introduced Sunday training sessions. Everyone meets for breakfast daily. At 7.30. Phones remains invisible. Players have a duty to clean up. "Our big focus was being consistent because that earns respect," says assistant coach Roddy Grant.

"We're trying to create something different this season, it's slowly building and definitely a starting point for us," Cockerill reasons. A side that have produced so many late wins - Ulster and Leinster amongst them - sanctifies the new ethics

Cockerill is in this for the long haul. His wife, Sarah-Jane, and their three children have all moved north too. Expectations remain moderate for year one but, having already bloodied a few noses, the coach was already eyeing today's fixture when he surmised that Munster's Champions Cup was good news because "they will be hurting."

"Europe is a very big thing for us, because it means we can begin to learn how to compete against the big teams and obviously play-offs is an added bonus for us," adds Cockerill. "And what a great place to go, Thomond Park, to test ourselves against a very, very good team."

Neither team nor venue will faze a man who brought Leicester here twice ('07, '15) and won; the historic 2007 coup against Munster's greatest ever team occurred when he was forwards coach. Now, another team constructed in an image seek a repeat feat; in March, they won the only league fixture between the sides in Scotland when most of this country were still basking in Grand Slam celebrations.

Few noticed, fewer cared. Cockerill aims to change all that. As he said last week, "maybe some day people might say Edinburgh and think of rugby first, not the f***ing castle!"


Munster go ‘3G’ in Cork

Munster are installing a modified 3G pitch at Irish Independent Park in Cork which will ensure wider availability of the venue for a variety of teams in the area as well as reducing long-term maintenance costs.

Although the exact investment – funded in part by Munster’s own commercial revenue streams – is unclear, similar installations in Ireland and the UK can cost anywhere up to €400,000.

However, annual savings beyond €75,000 can be made thanks to the reduction of pitch maintenance while there may also be the opportunity to hire out the pitch.

The installation period will take up to 10 weeks to complete and the new artificial surface will be ready ahead of the 2018-19 season.

Tralee-based company PST Sport, who include Kerry star Kieran Donaghy among their employees, have installed numerous such facilities, notably for Chelsea’s training centre in London.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport