Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has stuck to his promise of backing youth by handing 22-year-old back-row forward Magnus Bradbury the club captaincy.
Cockerill was able to point to a fairly compelling example of why age should be no barrier when it comes to taking on the leadership role.
“Martin Johnson was captain of Leicester at 21, and then went on to have a pretty good career with England and the Lions,” said the former Tigers hooker and coach.
“He led by his actions. The rugby nous you learn as you go along. You learn from senior guys on the job as well. I don’t think Magnus is there yet but I think it’s important you show faith in the young players you have.
“If they’re good enough it’s time for them to step up, whether they’re 21 or 22. I thought it was the right person in the group dynamic and you can overrate the importance of captain. If Magnus doesn’t play someone else will step up, and we’ll still go and win games. I’ve got to help him, and the club have to help him as leader, not just for us but moving forward into the national side.”
Bradbury is a product of Oban Lorne RFC and the son of SRU vice-president Dee Bradbury. After earning a scholarship to Merchiston Castle he turned pro with Edinburgh in 2015 and has developed into a key figure in the Edinburgh pack.
He received his first cap when he started against Argentina in last year’s autumn internationals and doubled his tally when he came off the bench during the recent summer tour win over Italy in Singapore.
“It was a bit out of the blue for me,” said the player. “I was a bit overwhelmed as well but it changes nothing for me as I will try and lead by example.
“I will have a few chats with the team but I just want to keep my head down and do what I do on and off the field.”
Bradbury insisted that he doesn’t feel daunted about the prospect of leading older players with far greater experience of the game, such as Scotland’s most-capped player Ross Ford and others, such as Grant Gilchrist, who have captained both club and country.
“It is more a discussion rather than giving orders,” said the forward, who captained the Scotland Under-20s a few times in his last year as an age-grade international. “They will say things to me still. I am still a young guy and we will help each other on and off the field.
“They will know from their time as captains there will be a time and place for it.”
Bradbury led the team out in Friday’s final pre-season match, a win over Newcastle at Melrose, which gave a clue that he might get the nod.
Cockerill, who is preparing his new team for this Friday’s Guinness Pro14 opener at Cardiff, was asked if it was bold to appoint a relative novice to such a key position.
“Yes and no,” said the coach. “I’ve said it already there’s been senior guys who’ve captained the side and it’s not gone so well.
“Part of that is change, developing leadership around a young man who has committed himself to the club and building to the future. I think it’s a good choice.
“Is it bold? No, not really because I think he can do the job. If he doesn’t play well he won’t be captain because he won’t be in the team. That’s the same with everybody, the nature of the business we’re in. I don’t think it’s a risk and if it is I don’t really care because it’s the right decision.
“You can’t change anything without changing something.
“I’d been thinking about it for a little while. And it’s something that has been an important part of my thinking ever since I signed.
“The perception is leadership is a problem at this club and it’s something I’ve been thinking about long and hard, and creating enough vulnerability within the group that they were going to be competing for spots. Nobody is going to be comfortable in this environment, I won’t be comfortable because I want a winning team. There’s no old boys’ club here, no benefits or favouritism, we do what we need to do to win games.”
Both Edinburgh and Glasgow went with co-captains last season but Cockerill never entertained that option and has followed the example of Dave Rennie, who named Ryan Wilson as Warriors skipper last week.
“It’s a bit like dual coaching, no-one rules by committee,” said the 46-year-old. “I certainly don’t. We only need one captain at a time, I don’t need to muddy the waters. There’s leaders on the field, your nines your tens, your 12s, the lineout callers. If Magnus leaves the field I’ll make sure the referee knows who he has to argue with when he needs to.”
Cockerill has looked to his old club to alleviate the shortage at loosehead by bringing Italy prop Michele Rizzo in from Leicester Tigers on a short-term, six-week deal. Former Scotland and Lions looshead Ryan Grant has been training with Edinburgh and played in the Newcastle game, but Cockerill said no decision had been made.
“At this point, Ryan’s got to show his fitness and readiness to play rugby full-time,” said Cockerill. “I’m dealing with the here and now which is Cardiff, Newport [Dragons], Treviso and going to Leinster, that’s what I have to deal with, those 16 plus points are the difference in the competition. Potentially [Grant could become available for selection] but he won’t be for this week. He has to decide what he wants to do.”