Simon CROSS today revealed he had turned down the chance to further his rugby coaching career in Scotland at professional level believing a move to Aviva Premiership outfit Worcester Warriors could assist him in one day returning north of the Border.
The 32-year-old former Scotland replacement – he was on the touchline awaiting a first cap when the final whistle blew – is leaving Edinburgh Accies after three years during which he also assisted the national under-20s.
Contrary to some speculation that Cross is leaving out of frustration at failing to climb Murrayfield’s pro coaching ladder, the one-time back row forward said: “While I was out in France at the World Under-20 championships I had honest and open discussions with both Mark Dodson (SRU chief executive) and I also spoke with Scott Johnson (national coach/director of rugby).
“They threw everything at me so far as staying was concerned.
“However, I wanted to test myself in a different environment mindful of how Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend’s coaching career is flourishing on the back of playing spells in various countries.
“It has been a brutal decision and it will be tough meeting with Accies this week to thank them for the enormous role they have played in my development. But I’ve been in Scotland 12 years counting my time at Edinburgh Rugby and I feel I can learn at a much faster pace by seeing how (Worcester director of rugby) Dean Ryan and his assistants Shane Howarth and Carl Hogg do things at Worcester where I will be in charge of defence, an aspect of the game I’m passionate about.”
Again many assume the link must have been made when Dean Ryan coached Scotland’s forwards during the last Six Nations Championship. Cross said “There is actually more of a connection between myself and Carl Hogg since we played together for a spell at Edinburgh. In the time Dean was working with Scotland I never actually met him.
“My guess is that since I was called in to assist Glasgow on defence while Matt Taylor was with Scotland something may have got back to Dean then that he has remembered on joining Worcester.”
It is widely recognised in Scottish Rugby that it was a matter of when, rather than if, Cross would gain a full-time professional opportunity. In deference to those ambitions he is proud to have put in place what he calls a “plan B” at Accies.
“It has been a pleasure to see Jonny Else and Malky McVie coming through as coaches who will take over with Andrew Easson stepping up from having charge of the 2nds.
“What I am also pleased about is the decision of Roddy Grant to come on board as a coach capable of giving the insight of a current professional player to technical aspects such as the contact area.
“I feel incredibly comfortable about the quality of the Accies coaching team that will also include (ex-Edinburgh coach) Bob Easson as director of rugby. As well as the players and coaches, though, I owe a debt to the likes of Frank Spratt (chairman) and Willie Liston who at the time of my appointment was club president.
“There must have been concerns over my relative lack of experience but I know Frank and Willie swung the decision on committee to go with me as coach.”
Successor Jonny Else has vowed to build on the work of Simon Cross.
“I’ve worked with Simon for the past three years and this was always going to happen,” said Else.
“We hoped that the club might keep him for another year since we have qualified for the British and Irish Cup but Simon’s occasional absences with the under-20s did give myself and Malcolm McVie extra opportunity to hold the reins. At other times we have benefited enormously from his knowledge.”
Accies resume training for the new season tonight for a campaign that will see them debut in the British and Irish Cup in a pool that includes London Scottish, London Welsh and an as yet undecided Welsh club representative.
Added Else: “Simon leaves behind a group of aspiring young professionals including Calum Reid (back row) who is currently training with Glasgow.”
While Cross had an influence in drawing Reid into the Scotland Under-20 squad last year, ex-scrum half Else’s deep involvement with Accies is highlighted by the fact he coached the same player as far back as S1 level.
“When a knee ligament injury ended my playing career, mindful of the fact I am a PE teacher (he is head of department at Gracemount High) and needed to be able to run about, I turned to coaching.
“That meant working my way through the ranks helping prospects like Ruairidh Bonner and Tom Drennan until Simon interviewed me about taking charge of Accies’ attack which I was delighted to do.
“Now one of the first tasks will be to settle on a captain after Dan Teague, who held the post for several years, decided to retire. It is possible our involvement in the B&I Cup will attract one or two new faces.
“Having said that I am conscious of wanting to reward the players who earned the club this fantastic opportunity and while SRU input in terms of releasing pro players will be welcome we can’t forget those who got us into the B&I Cup.”
Accies, meanwhile, have arranged pre-season friendlies against Murrayfield Wanderers and Watsonians ahead of a league kick-off against Glasgow Hawks on August 24.