BY HIS own assessment, Simon Cross enjoyed a ten-year career as a professional rugby player only by constantly going the extra mile to ensure he could compete with some of the world’s best at Celtic League level with Edinburgh.
So, it should be no surprise that Cross brings the same attention to detail in preparing Edinburgh Accies as a coach for a season in the new, streamlined, Scottish Rugby Premiership which gets under way on Saturday with a trip to Currie.
Recruiting international threequarter Simon Webster is a major coup, but Cross’ search for an edge in a ten-team competition goes much deeper and can be summed up by his approach to the draft aligning current pros to clubs for occasional appearances.
“I have the benefit of understanding the mindset of pros coming into a club, which is why I have picked Accies guys in the draft; there is an affiliation to this club.
“If Lewis Niven turns up he will come as an ex-Accie almost as much as an Edinburgh player. When Lewis puts on the shirt you know 100 per cent he will be behind you.
“Others like Jamie Farndale came through the school and while I don’t expect Dave Denton, Ross Rennie and Greig Laidlaw, an honorary Accie who played for us on the way through, to turn out, just having them around watching will be great for the young guys.”
On the pitch, it is the arrival of Webster that really excites Cross who is typically understated about his own contributions despite many regarding him as a future Scotland coach.
“Simon Webster adds energy and experience at the back while knowing what to do at the right time,” says Cross, adding: “His decision making under pressure is excellent.
“Off the pitch or in training he will be very professional and will show the youngsters how to behave at a certain time. ‘This is how you warm up and warm down, this is how you conduct yourself in training,’ he’ll say.
“It will be great for young guys like Sam Pecquer and Jamie Farndale to see Simon is normal, no airs and graces.
“Against Watsonians a fortnight ago, if anybody doubted commitment, that disappeared when Simon ran into four of their players.
“An excited and motivated Webster is a dangerous animal, while in Dan Teague, going into his eighth year of captaincy, and Iain Berthinussen, I have two of the best leaders in the league.
“Throw Greg Campbell into the same mix with Matt Coupar returning from long-term injury, having worked hard to ensure he is known as much more than a finisher, and we are well placed.
“No-one gives us a chance really and that is sometimes a nice place to be. There is not a massive amount of expectation.
“Some clubs with the budget they have got – there’s real pressure on them to go out and do well. With us there is a quiet confidence. We just have to do the simple things well and see what happens.
“Yes, we are small. We have to work our way around that and the skill level has to be right up there as well. But we understand where our frailties lie. We will work our way through that.”
As to devising the game plans, Cross makes clear he won’t be short of motivation, even if as an ex-Scotland sub, he sells his playing abilities seriously short.
“Guys like me who never really made it at top level – I had ten good years as a pro, but I had to work really hard all the time – had to really study the game to keep up.
“Ally Hogg could just do things that infuriated you because it looked like be wasn’t trying; he could do things that no other back row could do at Edinburgh.
“I had to think about the game all the way through and I think that explains my love affair with coaching because I understand what I want from my players. I understand how I view the game because I spent the last ten years studying it to make sure I could compete against some of the best players around.”
As for personal aspirations, Cross, with coaching commitments to Edinburgh Academy as well as Scotland under-18s/20s, hopes to benefit from a new Continual Professional Development scheme attaching premiership coaches to Edinburgh or Glasgow for two years while continuing with clubs.
“I absolutely understand why they [the SRU] don’t want to risk a £4.2m budget with someone who has no pro experience in terms of coaching.
“But it’s important there is an avenue for premiership coaches to get into pro game and I welcome that. For the foreseeable future, though, I owe a considerable amount to Accies.”