Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill hopes South Africa experiment can continue

Cheetahs and Kings added another dimension to Guinness Pro14, he says

Edinburgh’s Pierre Schoeman in action against Southern Kings, who have announced they won’t play any rugby for the rest of the year. Picture: SNS/SRU

Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill believes the Guinness Pro14, or Pro12 as it will be at the delayed start of the 
2020-21 season, remains strong and believes South Africa may yet be a rich vein to mine in the future.

The financially-struggling Southern Kings have announced they won’t play any rugby for the rest of the year and the travel restrictions due to the serious Covid 19 battle going on in South Africa means the Cheetahs won’t be able to compete overseas until 2021.

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Cockerill remains convinced the experiment to reach out to South Africa was worth doing and said: “Cheetahs have been very strong when they have played in the competition and pushed teams hard and been in play-offs. For Kings it’s been difficult. It’s hard when you are the sixth franchise in South Africa. When you haven’t got that much money then it’s always going to be difficult.”

Cockerill still has the remainder of this current season firmly at the forefront of his mind, with a home semi-final against Ulster at BT Murrayfield a week on Saturday to look forward to after this Friday’s dead rubber against Glasgow for which 700 fans will be in attendance at the national stadium in a first for Scottish sport and British rugby since the coronavirus shutdown.

Looking to the future he believes there can still be a place for South African involvement, with the introduction of the four stronger Super Rugby franchises and, potentially, the Springboks joining the Six Nations.

“It’s disappointment really,” he said about the news regarding Kings and Cheetahs. “You want all teams to be viable. It was a good competition having the South African sides in. It’s for the league to decide and they’re the guys in charge and know better than me.

“I think the South African sides have brought a good slant on the competition, good to go and travel there and play at different venues. Obviously it’s been mooted that there may be other South African teams joining the competition.”

Looking ahead to Glasgow on Friday night, Cockerill said: “We’ll pick a good team but one that’s right for us really. You don’t want to risk too many front line guys who would in certain positions be a disaster if they were injured for the semi-final. I think we’ve made ten changes for Friday. Some of our younger guys will get an opportunity.”

The coach revealed that wing Darcy Graham and back-rower Magnus Bradbury are available again after injury, while lock Grant Gilchrist would definitely be one of those rested for the Ulster showdown.

“I’m happy to get it confirmed,” Cockerill said. “We knew it was going to be Ulster but to get it confirmed on Saturday night that it wasn’t down to points difference games won [over Munster] and to know we would be at home was pleasing. Knowing we can manage and look after our squad this week and be fresh on Monday for a full week’s training to make sure we’re ready for a semi-final.”

He is also looking forward to welcoming a select of Edinburgh season ticket holders back to cheer the team on after Saturday’s behind-closed-doors resumption.

“I think it’s nice to get a bit of noise in there. It was a little bit echoey on Saturday,” he said. “It’s good to get supporters in, the start of that and showing that Murrayfield can host supporters and do it safely and make sure we pilot that well. Hopefully we’ll do the same the week after and start to build crowds little by little so that for us we can maybe get to seven or 8,000 and hopefully for the autumn and Six Nations we’re getting 30,000 plus in there.

“I think it’s a good start and it will be great to have a bit of support. It will be nice that they’ll all be Edinburgh 

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