Why departures won’t deflect Richard Cockerill from his goal of winning a trophy with Edinburgh
The coach is determined to win a trophy with the capital side and has questioned whether the two players who are leaving at the end of the season - Duhan van der Merwe and Andrew Davidson - have improved their chance of lifting silverware by agreeing to join Worcester and Gloucester, respectively.
Cockerill, who signed a contract extension to 2023 last summer, knows that Covid-19 has dented Scottish rugby’s finances and his player budget will be affected accordingly. However, he is confident of signing new talent to replace those who have gone and also believes the turnover in personnel can create opportunities for young players coming through at Edinburgh.
While losing van der Merwe in particular is a blow, Cockerill says it will not derail his ambitions nor have a negative impact on morale at a club he has galvanised in his three and a half years in charge.
“I’ve been around a long time. Ten years ago I would have been really cheesed off, but I’ve got used to the world that we live in,” Cockerill said of the news that van der Merwe and Davidson would be leaving.
“I want to win trophies - Mark Dodson [the SRU chief executive] brought me here to improve Edinburgh and for us to be successful, and success is trying to win trophies. For us at least one trophy at some point.
“It makes it harder, but sometimes life throws you a curve ball and you have to deal with it. My job is to be positive and make sure we keep chipping away and working hard with the group that we have, whatever that ends up being - and it will be a strong group, I can ensure you of that - rather than just going ‘Well it’s not fair and this is not what I signed up for and I’m bigger and more special than everybody else so I’m leaving’. It’s not my style.
“We’ve got to show some character as a group, both management and players and at board level as well, around sticking with the process and working hard with the resources we’ve got, which are still good. But we’ve got to a point where we need to kick on again - that costs money. Unfortunately at this point we haven’t got that money to invest in the team to take us to the next level of a Munster or a Leinster-type team.
“Unfortunately with the world we live in with Covid, that’s just the way that the cards have fallen. If we’d carried on as normal, I’ve no doubt that the union would have invested in both pro teams and I would have been more than happy that we could keep developing and pushing on and start to not just compete but be on a par and overtake teams like Ulster and Munster.
“There’s a lot of positive things in Scottish rugby. I know we get bashed on it. There’s a lot of good players and if Covid hadn’t happened I’ve no doubt we would have been financed to a level where we could kick on again.
“I’m here for a little bit longer, so hopefully we can turn that corner and see the end of that.”
It’s been a frustrating season so far for Cockerill who was deprived of his large contingent of Scotland players during the extended autumn international window, meaning he has been unable to build on the success of previous campaigns.
Edinburgh finished top of Conference B at the end of the Covid-interrupted 2019-20 season before losing in the play-off semi-finals at home to Ulster. Cockerill has also made progress in Europe, reaching the last eight of both the Champions Cup, in 2018-19, and the Challenge Cup 12 months later.
While circumstances have stilted progress this season, the coach believes that Edinburgh still represent an attractive proposition for prospective new players and compare favourably to the clubs van der Merwe and Davidson are joining..
“We’ve improved out of sight in the last four years,” said the former England hooker. “We’ve been in European quarter-finals and just lost out. We’ve been in Pro 14 semis and just lost out. So at Edinburgh we’re doing good things.
“With respect to Worcester and Gloucester, I don’t think they are two teams you are going to go to win silverware with. They’ve got as much or as little chance as ourselves. So it depends on how you want to play the narrative. I’m trying to think of the last time Gloucester or Worcester won a trophy or the Premiership. So it’s a bit harsh to say that players are leaving Edinburgh to go to win trophies.”
Cockerill was aghast at the suggestion that attracting players to Edinburgh might be a hard sell at the moment. He also has enough faith in his ability to improve players to convince him that coming to Murrayfield remains an appealing prospect, even in these straitened times.
“To be honest, I’ve never had a problem trying to attract players to Edinburgh Rugby,” he said. “They are always positive conversations and since I’ve been here we’ve always been an attractive proposition to players to come.
“I don’t see Edinburgh as a poor relation to other teams. We’ve got a pretty strong, robust environment that creates good rugby players.
“Look at the guys who have come in and look at the guys that were here who were floundering when I arrived and who are now fully fledged Test players for Scotland and starting every week. Guys like Duhan who have been called one of the world’s best wingers and is now going for a big money move. We’ve got a strong environment and people recognise that and there are lots of guys who would be interested in joining that.”