Richard Cockerill’s dealings with the Rugby Football Union haven’t always been amicable so the Edinburgh coach admitted that part of him was tickled by the news over the weekend that he was on a list of coaches who could succeed Eddie Jones in the England job.
“I have been banned enough by the [RFU]. I am one of lots,” he said with a laugh, before declaring emphatically: “My sole attention is what I am doing at Edinburgh. I am contracted as simple as that. until 2021. I am not sure any coach would want to be mentored for two years by Eddie. It is not how it works.”
RFU interim chief executive Nigel Melville included Cockerill, who has transformed the fortunes of Edinburgh since arriving in the Scottish capital, on a list of potential future England coaches along with Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster, Wales and Lions boss Warren Gatland, Bordeaux defence coach Joe Worsley and Jones’s current assistant Steve Borthwick.
“It is always nice to be mentioned in those circles but I have been mentioned before and I am still here,” continued Cockerill. “There is no job to be taken. I am not sure the [RFU] would want me to do it anyway.”
Cockerill spoke with passion about his Edinburgh project, which has seen him banish the long malaise which had hung around the club for some years and drag them to a position where they proudly sit top of their Heineken Champions Cup pool at the halfway stage, above cashed-up French giants Toulon and Montpellier and English Premiership side Newcastle Falcons, who they face away in the second of a double header on Sunday.
“I am an Englishman and a very proud Englishman,” said Cockerill. “But my job is that of a pro coach and I will do whatever is best for Edinburgh who I coach at this point. I have an emotional attachment to this club because we have put a lot of effort and time to try to get it as good as it can be.”
When it was suggested that winning the elite European competition with Edinburgh would certainly push him to the top of the list of England contenders, Cockerill smiled and replied: “If I win the Heineken Champions Cup I might retire… a very happy man.”
While desperate for a third straight European win, following the 31-13 home success against a front-row depleted Falcons last Friday, Cockerill refused to label this Sunday’s return at Newcastle as a must-win, suggesting a losing bonus to keep the points total ticking up wouldn’t be the worst outcome.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to go and win at the weekend and put ourselves right in the box seat to qualify,” he said. “That’s what we’ll try to do.
“But, even if we don’t win, we still have another two opportunities to get out of this group. That’s the thing about the pool stage and actually understanding how that works.
“Even at the weekend there when we got the fourth try [against Newcastle] it was about let’s not give them any extra [losing bonus] point which could give them a fillip.
“When we go to Newcastle even if we don’t manage to win, if we get a point out of that game it’s another point closer to qualifying. We go to Toulon, we have Montpellier to come but we’d really like to create games for us that are big games that we have to win.
“Newcastle we’d really like to, it’s not a must-win as there will be other opportunities. We’d really like get to Montpellier and it’s a game to qualify or a game to finish top. We need to play in those sorts of games, this is a learning curve for us. If that comes quicker then I’ll take it.
“We’ve put ourselves in a position have as good an opportunity as anyone to qualify from this group.”
Cockerill’s former side Toulon finally got off the mark with a home win over Montpellier last week, meaning no side in Pool 5 would consider themselves out of the running.
“Toulon are no mugs. You take them lightly at your peril,” said Cockerill.
“They have exceptionally good players.”