Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill views this Saturday’s crunch European clash with Toulon as the next step in the challenge to turn his side into “arrogant Englishmen” in his own image.
Cockerill was still exuding a mix of frustration and encouragement yesterday at the start of a week in which he hopes to plot a Heineken Champions Cup comeback from the unfortunate defeat at Montpellier to a win over his old club Toulon at home on Saturday.
During a good-humoured meeting with the press at BT Murrayfield, the man who had a few months coaching at Toulon after he was sacked by Leicester and before his move to the Scottish capital, expressed a lot of pride in the way his players acquitted themselves in the losing bonus-point 21-15 at Vern Cotter’s star-studded side. However, with the visit of another cashed-up French team, albeit one in a bit of bother this season, the former England hooker was adamant that more work is needed on his players’ mindsets.
“If it kills me, I am going to get rid of this Scottish trait of ‘we are always going to be second best and we are going to be plucky losers’ because it does my head in,” he said.
“I am an arrogant Englishman and I expect to win. That is just my nature, love it or not.
“Our lads have got to get that streak in us and we have to get it quickly. Now we know the level and know what it takes to play against big teams, we have played away against Montpellier and they were good but we should have won that game. We did enough to win that game; we almost deserved to win that game. We have got to knock those fragilities.”
Edinburgh shut Montpellier out in the second half and had a couple of tries disallowed by English referee Wayne Barnes, as well as falling short themselves with a few opportunity-squandering slip-ups.
If there are fragilities lingering for Edinburgh then it looks like there are also some with the three-time European champions Toulon, who were stunned at home by English Premiership basement boys Newcastle Falcons in their Pool 5 opener and currently languish 12th in the French Top 14.
It is a fairly remarkable slump by the club who won three European titles in a row between 2012 and 2015, but Cockerill is expecting a response.
“They are big hitters in European rugby. They have some world-class individuals so yes I am looking forward to bringing them to Murrayfield and taking them on,” he said.
“On Sunday, Toulon had a great start to the game and got in front early. They just switched off didn’t they? They clearly have not played with particular confidence this season.
“What are they? Two from seven. For them to lose to Newcastle at home in Europe is pretty disastrous for them. I know [Toulon owner] Mourad [Boudjellal] well enough that that is not going to be welcomed.
“Mourad pays his money and he wants to win. He is very clear about that. I have a lot of respect for what he has done and what Toulon is about but they have not played as they should have this year.
“Europe is not finished for them but they have some ground to make up, haven’t they?”
Cockerill went to Toulon to be Mike Ford’s assistant at the start of 2017 after his Leicester sacking, eventually taking over as head coach for the end of the season when Ford left. Boudjellal is a controversial and outspoken figure in European rugby but Cockerill enjoyed his time there.
“My only experience is the one that I’ve had with him. He pays his money and takes his choice and he wants to win,” said the Englishman. “The reality is that if you’re paying guys 40, 50, 60 thousand euros per month you want your money’s worth.
“It’s a different way of doing things but when he bought that club they were a mid-table Pro D2 team; ten years later they’re three-times European champions and have won the Top 14. Whether you like his methods or not, you have to respect what he’s done. He’s done it very well.”
Cockerill, though, is more interested in how his own very different squad of players respond at the weekend.
“For me, before the [Montpellier] game this group had not played at that [Champions Cup] level before, We have now.
“I expect more from us and I think we’ll get it. We are talking about playing against Montpellier and Toulon and expecting to have a performance that reflects what we are trying to do and will put is in a position where we are capable of winning these games.”