Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has refused to confirm or deny reports that star summer signing Robbie Fruean is on the verge of retirement due to health reasons.
The 29-year-old Kiwi has had two open heart surgeries since 2007 plus other minor operations after a bout of rheumatic fever as a 19-year-old led to serious complications and required him to receive replacement valves.
Fruean, who forged a successful Super Rugby centre pairing with Sonny Bill Williams at the Crusaders, arrived from Bath in the summer after passing a strenuous medical but has made only five appearances for Edinburgh and none since October 6 against Zebre.
A Sunday newspaper report claimed that further heart complications meant a retirement announcement was imminent, and Cockerill was asked at yesterday’s press conference if he could shed any light on the issue.
“I don’t really want to make any comment on that. It’s a private matter for Robbie to deal with and when he’s ready to speak about it he will,” was the coach’s response.
“I think it’s in pretty poor taste that it’s reported, to be fair. That’s all I’ve got to say on it at the moment – it’s a private matter for Robbie that he needs to deal with and until he’s happy to talk about it, it should remain private. And I think people should respect the privacy that that commands.”
Asked if Fruean was likely to feature for Edinburgh in the foreseeable future, Cockerill replied: “At this point no, he won’t be available for the foreseeable future. So until Robbie’s ready to discuss that, I’d like us all to respect his privacy. I think that’s fair enough, don’t you?
“I don’t care if you think it is or not, that’s how it’s going to be from my end. Let’s talk about rugby, can we?”
There was good news regarding Mark Bennett as Cockerill revealed the Scotland centre could make his first appearance for the club in next weekend’s European Challenge Cup match against Russian side Krasny Yar. Edinburgh host London Irish at Myreside this Saturday evening hoping to extend their lead at the top of Pool 4 which is already five points after two away wins.
“I’m hoping Mark will play some part next week against Krasny Yar,” said Cockerill. “I think he’s quite keen to be fit for the Glasgow games over Christmas.”
Bennett’s move from Glasgow to Edinburgh for the 2017-18 season was announced back in February but not long after the centre suffered a cruciate ligament injury during the Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenham.
“He’s looking very sharp and very determined,” said the coach. “He’s got a lot of experience and I think he’d like to share that and help build this team.
“Maybe at Glasgow because he wasn’t one of the better known players maybe his experience wasn’t as used as he would have liked. I’m looking forward to having him in the squad.
“He’s an international player, he’s played for Great Britain in the Olympics [sevens] and in a championship-winning team for Glasgow. He’s a very straight-talking gentleman and I like that about him.”
Cockerill freely admits that he has had his fair share of problems to deal with in the first few months of his Edinburgh tenure but simply points to the results as proof that any issues have largely been kept off-field.
The coach has had to deal with the distractions of internal disciplinary proceedings against Magnus Bradbury, who was stripped of the captaincy before being reintegrated following a drunken indiscretion, and Scotland flanker John Hardie, who is now serving a three-month ban for “gross misconduct”.
However, Cockerill prefers to focus on what has been happening on the pitch and the fact Edinburgh lie fourth in their Guinness Pro14 Conference B and can take a big step towards the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals when they host London Irish at Myreside on Saturday evening.
“Yeah, it has [been a problematic start], but we’re six from the last seven and we’ve just got on with it,” said the Englishman.
“The lads that have excluded themselves from the squad because of their behaviour – it’s not affected us. If people don’t want to be part of it, and do things that they shouldn’t do, then they can step aside and other guys will step up, as they have.
“We’ve not missed Bradbury or Hardie when they’ve been missing, because we’ve got guys that have stepped up. Luke Crosbie and Jamie Ritchie have filled those spaces very well, Vili Mata has come back in and stepped up, and Cornell [du Preez] has been on very good form.
“That’s just how it is. I can only worry about the blokes that can play. Those that can’t, whether they’re injured or there are other things afoot, I have to put that to one side and get on with coaching the team and trying to get us to win, which is what I’m paid to do.”
Cockerill confirmed that Hardie will not even train with the club until his suspension ends in the new year.
“John will be available from January,” said Cockerill. “He’ll come back into the squad and train. He’s been disciplined, and we’ll help him rehabilitate himself back to playing again. As a club we have responsibility to help people. He’s made an error, he’s been punished, he’s got to come back and work hard and try and force his way into the team.”