Former Edinburgh back-row Simon Cross insists he has no regrets about uprooting from the Capital last year to coach Worcester Warriors despite their recent relegation from the Aviva Premiership.
The 33-year-old headed south almost 11 months ago when he got the call from Warriors head coach Carl Hogg, a former team-mate at Edinburgh, offering him the chance to become defence coach. The ambitious Cross, who was forced to hang up his boots due to persistent knee trouble in 2010, jumped at the opportunity to progress his fledgling coaching career with a side in the English top flight.
And he still believes he was right to make the move to the West Midlands even though the Warriors were relegated to the Championship in his first term there. “It’s been an eye-opener but the best move I have ever made in rugby,” said Cross. “The task now is to get Worcester straight back into the top flight.”
That Cross should back himself to help Worcester overcome adversity will surprise nobody who is familiar with the Mauritius-born Scot’s drive. Even before injuries forced him to retire four years ago, Cross had turned to coaching. That journey started at Penicuik, then took him to Murrayfield Wanderers before he guided Edinburgh Accies to the British and Irish Cup at the same time as taking on a role with Scotland under-20s.
When Hogg got in touch last summer, he had no hesitation in heading to England to become part of his old colleague’s backroom staff. Despite Worcester’s demotion, Cross has been suitably impressed with the set-up at Sixways Stadium. He has no concerns about his club’s ability to bounce back at the first time of asking.
“I didn’t have to think long about my decision because I knew Carl was a good coach. I now believe he is a future Scotland coach,” he said. “Similarly, Dean Ryan, the director of rugby, rediscovered his enthusiasm while attached to Scotland and with Shane Howarth [ex-Wales] part of our coaching team there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
“Dean made it clear at the outset that changes were going to have to be made which helped ensure there was no knee-jerk reaction to relegation. Rebuilding is underway for the return to a league where things are very different to what I experienced in the Pro12. There is also relegation in England meaning some are liable to have owners breathing down their neck, and the attritional nature of things is significant. Saracens, the best team in the league by a distance in my book, won’t play in their own half; they try to squeeze and put the onus on opponents all the time. Munster and Ulster are the two I played against with Edinburgh who best demonstrate the English club style but the absence of relegation in the Pro12 does mean you have a bit more freedom.”
Signs of a turnaround in Worcester fortunes began to emerge as the season ended with their only two wins, but there were an agonising six defeats by a single score margin.
Amidst the battle to overhaul Newcastle – they failed to survive by just seven league points – Cross found time to watch old club Accies defeat Stewart’s Melville at Lasswade in a Premiership play-off. “I wanted to watch a group we put together in a team that probably overperformed the previous season in reaching the B&I Cup,” he explained. “That helped half a dozen players get into the Scotland under-20s but Accies failed to get dispensation to cancel league games when they were away. That was a factor in what happened last season but some of these lads are going from strength to strength.
“Chris Dean has been signed by Edinburgh and after switching from No.8 to outside centre, he has the potential to be a rival of Mark Bennett for a Scotland jersey for years to come.
“Likewise I see Alex Allan finishing his career with at least 50 caps for Scotland at prop.”
Cross speaks with authority having coached these lads in last year’s Under-20 World Cup before heading for Worcester,
“I virtually stepped off a plane and into work at Worcester so a break until we re-start training on June 9 is overdue,” he says,
Cross will be following the fortunes of Scotland under-20s closer than most when they begin their latest World Cup bid against South Africa in New Zealand on Monday.
As well as the strong Accies presence, Jack Cosgrove, the Worcester prop on loan at Doncaster, will add to the growing list of under-20 caps benefitting from the promptings of proud Scot Cross.