When asked whether Richard Cockerill thought the last eight months have changed him, what followed was a 1000-word relentless self-examination which in his own brilliant way, ended with one clear conclusion: No, Cockerill has lost none of his bite.
As he prepares Edinburgh for the new Guinness PRO14 season, the intensity and determination remain, as does the unwavering desire to win. The whirlwind of the past eight months that saw him get sacked by Leicester, then join Toulon where he ended up leading them to the Top 14 final has eventually settled at Edinburgh. But there is restlessness. Edinburgh have been warned.
Winning is engrained in Cockerill’s green, white and red Leicester DNA. But Edinburgh offers an altogether different proposition. At Leicester Cockerill knew that top four in the Premiership was a given, winning expected. But he has spent his first weeks in the job trying to gage exactly what Edinburgh are about. The image of Cockerill rooting around in some dusty cupboard looking for a definitive history of the club is perhaps a touch far-fetched, but the reality is not far off.
“It’s just trying to find something that you can pin the culture of the place on,” Cockerill said. “We’ve got a lovely castle but there haven’t been any battles there! First of all, for me, it’s about the history of the club — who has played the most games? How many centurions do we have? Is there a players’ tie? Do we recognise 50 caps or 100 caps for the club? Nobody really knows.
“From 1872 until now, there is a s**t-load of history and it is missing somewhere, in a cupboard. I don’t know where it is, but we’ve got to go and find it. I don’t know how many internationals or Lions Edinburgh has produced but it is a lot. There is not a board anywhere that says anything. We should have that and celebrate that.”
Those are the foundations for longer-term success but as Cockerill knows, results keep him in a job. “I have to take this group by the scruff of it’s neck and help them realise their potential,” he says. “Historically, this team hasn’t been able to deliver consistently. There have been great wins and really s**t losses, and not much in between. They can clearly compete, they just can’t do it every week.
“The club has been around for 140-odd years, but no-one can really tell me what the culture is or what it looks like.”
Richard Cockerill joined Mike Ford at Toulon as a coaching consultant but took over the reigns after Ford was shown the door. Warren Little/Getty Images
All the while Cockerill is talking, Mark Bennett — signed from Glasgow ahead of this season — sits slightly restlessly, sometimes shooting glances to the press officer, perhaps wondering exactly what’s in store for him when he regains full fitness. There are no grey areas with Cockerill, something that is a huge credit to him, but has also steered him into choppy waters in the past.
Cockerill still trusts his methods, but he was thrown by getting the boot from Leicester back in January. “When you get sacked, it’s pretty s**t,” Cockerill says. “You take the hit because actually you get dented a bit, as you’re getting sacked because they don’t think you’re good enough.”
But at Toulon, and the way Leicester have acted since have given him renewed belief in his methods. He highlights how he feels the Tigers have actually gone back to the gameplan he instilled within them, after turning to former head coach Matt O’Connor.
“I think you just learn that coaching’s coaching and probably by my own errors, Leicester wanted to change the way they wanted to play and all they’ve done is find out that they probably didn’t want to change the way they wanted to play.
“What I should have done is just go ‘this is how we play, this is what I believe in, I know it works’ and probably been more stronger in conviction around what we should have done but because I’d never coached anywhere else.”
That last part has now changed. When he arrived at Toulon just four days after leaving Leicester it was in a consultancy basis under then head coach Mike Ford. But in April Ford departed, leaving Cockerill in control. What was meant to be a way of keeping his hand in coaching, while looking for other options, suddenly became high pressure.
“They sacked Mike on the Monday, nobody trained. There’s myself, Marc del Maso and [Matt] Giteau, who’s never coached, and we have to beat Toulouse at Marseille in front of 65,000 people, and you have to win.
“I thought it would be a great experience and quite relaxed because Ford’s in charge and you do your bits. But what it turns out to be, you get there and you’ve just been sacked and everybody’s going ‘f**k, that’s not worked so well’ and your reputation could take double dents in the space of six months so I needed to get it f**king right which pretty much I did.
“You need to be a f**king strong personality in that environment because everyone’s going ‘you need to win’. So you go ‘no problem, I’m used to winning’.”
Last season was another frustrating one at Edinburgh, losing in the Challenge Cup semifinals and finishing ninth in the PRO12. Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
That’s what Edinburgh have gone for, a proven winner. There is a part of Cockerill’s brain that still defaults back to Leicester. When talking about the attitude and understanding he wants his players to develop, he remembers how Ed Slater, ex-Leicester lock now at Gloucester, told him that when he was given the No.4 shirt he had to do it justice because Martin Johnson wore it before him.
He wants the current group of Edinburgh players to treasure the shirts; he hopes future hookers will feel the weight of nostalgia on the No.2 jersey due to Ross Ford’s exploits in the Edinburgh front-row.
It will take time but back to the immediate, and the PRO14 starts on Friday with Edinburgh travelling to the Cardiff Blues and right from the off, he wants to see incremental improvements, game-on-game with the focus purely on the club, rather than future, personal accolades.
“I feel, rightly or wrongly, that too many guys at Edinburgh, historically, have used it as a place to play a few games or rugby, to get themselves fit for the Test matches. Scotland don’t want that and I won’t tolerate that.”
Gone are the days of valiant defeats at Edinburgh, but it is going to take an incredible amount of hard work to live up to Cockerill’s expectations. “There is a rich history, but we need to find that and get the modern crop of players to understand that and how hard you have to work to win something. They are clearly nowhere near where they would like to be and we are starting afresh, to try to make a proper club out of the place.”
The early focus has been on fitness and organisation, but expect to see a team moulded in Cockerill’s image. They will be physical, passionate and unwilling to accept second best. It’s the Cockerill way and it will not change for anyone.
Source Article from http://www.espn.co.uk/rugby/story/_/id/20487002/richard-cockerill-whirlwind-eight-months-leicester-toulon-edinburgh
The Cockerill Way: An unwavering desire to win
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