Edinburgh Rugby head coach Richard Cockerill has warned that he will not pick players based on reputation and wants the younger members of his squad to “put their hands up and really get stuck in”.
The former England hooker, who coached Leicester Tigers for over a decade, was appointed to the Edinburgh role back in February and, after relocating from France where he was working with Toulon, he has been running the rule over his new charges in recent weeks.
Next Friday, they play Sale Sharks in a friendly at Meggetland before taking on Newcastle Falcons a week later in Melrose.
The first match in the new-look Guinness PRO14 comes away to Cardiff Blues on Friday, September 1 and Cockerill wants his team to hit the ground running. Last year, the team stuttered to just six wins in the Guinness PRO12 to finish ninth in the table while they were knocked out of the European Rugby Challenge Cup by La Rochelle in the last eight.
As a result, Cockerill, 46, knows there will be “no quick fix” at the Capital outfit – and he is refusing to rely solely on his more experienced players to lead from the front, asking the up-and-coming players to take responsibility too.
“We have 11 current internationalists around the group and when you have that you simply shouldn’t be sitting in the bottom four,” he said in his first media briefing since taking up the role.
“If I see a young player doing everything that is asked of him and performing well in training then I would have no problems picking him for the next match ahead of a more established guy. We need lots of hard work to take this club forward.
“I need players who want to improve and be as good as they can be – not just a bit better, but as good as they can be. I want to have world-class players.
“There is clearly enough talent within this squad to kick on and be better than they are, but now we have to show that.
“A lot of them are still very young players and hopefully we can give them an environment where they want to play together, have an identity, have a culture. All of that takes hard work day in, day out and firstly getting it right today and building from there.
“I want us to play to win. Every time we go on the park I want us to be tough to play against, not just defensively but also be unpredictable with ball in hand.
“I want supporters to walk away from games saying ‘well we might have lost by five points, but didn’t our boys put a shift in which we didn’t always do last year’.
“That will help in terms of building an identity and getting a crowd to come and watch us. I wouldn’t want to watch a team that looks like they can’t be bothered.”
Of the young Scots in Cockerill’s squad who he has been impressed with he name-checked Darcy Graham, the 20-year-old back-three player who has arrived from Hawick, 20-year-old full-back Blair Kinghorn and 21-year-old back-row Magnus Bradbury as well as a crop of others. He also wants the slightly older players within the group who gained good experience last season – the likes of Hamish Watson and Ben Toolis – to really kick on and become leaders.
“There is not a lot of leadership within the team, and I don’t think that’s a secret to anybody. We’ve got to realise where we are at,” he explained.
“I would like the younger players to step up and starts to take some leadership within the group so that there is good young Scottish core driving the team forward because I think that is important.
“We have had some good conversations about where the players think they are and where they would like to be and how they would like people to describe the team. That’s the starting point to me – being realistic about where we are.
“If we prepare properly we will go into games confident and with a bit of belief and we may just start winning the tight games that the team were losing last year.”