As a player Neil Back, MBE, had a deserved reputation for being hard and direct but in his current incarnation as Edinburgh Rugby’s new forwards coach, he appears to have developed a side-step, albeit still with the type of cheeky chappie grin that is a trademark.
A pity really for, with the 66-times capped England flanker’s unveiling to the media unable to be completed without a question about the incident where he swung a Heineken Cup Final Leicester’s way by illegally punching the ball from an opponent’s hands as he prepared to feed a scrum, the hope was that any response might be couched in what, we were quickly learning, was customary wit. Instead, with a twinkle in his eye, Back insisted: “I don’t remember what you are on at?”
And so there was to be no repetition of the insight provided into another celebrated – infamous? – Cup Final incident in England where Back was subsequently banned for pushing a referee, the authorities rejecting has defence that “I thought it was Andy Robinson”.
In rugby, wounds are healed at the final whistle and Back said: “Under the new refurbishment at Murrayfield Andy’s office is 21 metres away (a good arms length, then?).
“Andy was a playing foe of mine and I remember saying to him in one game ‘You has-been’ and he came quickly back with “better than a never been’, so that shows how sharp he is.
“That was on the field. You can be doing something you shouldn’t and that shapes into a handshake at the final whistle.
“I’d never advocate anything against the laws.”
Sitting alongside, Edinburgh head coach Michael Bradley’s face never flickered, which was perhaps surprising as an ex-scrum half from Munster . . . the team Back committed his Euro indiscretion against and it is certainly the case that the duo have united in a common cause.
At the very least Back will bring an astute knowledge, as well as an awareness of how Scottish Rugby is organised along the lines of central contracts, which contrast with his previous experiences in England where clubs make the deals.
Five years ago, Edinburgh went to Back’s old Leicester club and were thrashed 39-0.
Although he’d moved on by then, when he heard the result, did he ever think he’d end up working with such an outfit who had been thoroughly outclassed on the day?
“I didn’t think the Edinburgh job would be attractive after that 0-39 defeat. No.
“If you look through the team sheets of Edinburgh, they do not always contain their best players and that’s because Michael, as head coach, has got to manage their playing loads in conjunction with the Scottish Rugby Football Union.
“There are slightly different rules and regs here and in coming with my eyes wide open, it was important there was depth in the squad and the summer has been fantastic, so there is now depth and we should be able to field a more competitive side week in, week out.
“We have 13 or 14 (Scotland) international players. Ten of those could be away for 40 per cent of the games. We have got to have that quality there that is challenging them as well.”
With 14 foreigners now on Edinburgh’s books, an admiring Back said: “That is what Michael has instilled.”
What Back will also bring is experience of working under several top coaches and he pays tribute to former Lions coach, Jim Telfer, saying: “I loved working with Jim. He was hard-nosed. He made guys work.”