Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has a long history of sticking up for the little guy in a fight even if the little guy in question is usually Richard Cockerill.
Now the feisty Englishman is taking on human nature itself by waging war against referees’ habit of blowing for what they expect to see rather than what actually unfolds.
“My own opinion is that the teams that are supposed to win get refereed more favourably than the teams that aren’t supposed to win,” was what Cockerill actually said to which the only obvious response is “Duh!”
It is human nature and it has been going on since William Webb Ellis decided to bend the rules a little back in Victorian times. That inbuilt bias explains why the All Blacks somehow went 50 long years between red cards; Colin Meads in 1967 and Sonny Bill Williams in 2017, unless you believe that the Kiwis select only saints not sinners – in which case you may also be interested in buying London Bridge.
Cockerill was incensed when his team conceded a try to the Scarlets ten days ago after what he saw as an obvious case of “crossing”, which the referee declined to refer “upstairs”, whereas against Leinster on Friday Dougie Fife had one score wiped off when the TMO deemed John Hardie had obstructed the defence.
The coach is not the type to turn the other cheek and Cockerill demanded a meeting with Pro14’s head of referees although he was reluctant to share the details in public when asked if Greg Garner shared his opinion.
“That was a private conversation,” replied Cockerill, who admitted that life was a lot easier when coaching relative giants such as Leicester Tigers and Toulon.
“It’s always better when you’re the person getting the benefit. We’ve got to make sure that we keep developing what we’re doing.
“I’m never going to blame the referee for the result, we’ve got to be good enough to control that ourselves. You want it to be refereed on its merits; so referee what you see and not what you think should happen.
“You want the big moments right, but we have to play well enough. There’s a lot of things that we can do better. However, wherever we play, I want us to be refereed fairly, on the merits of what we put on the field that day.”
He may yet regret those words because Edinburgh will be firm favourites when they meet a Zebre team coached by Michael Bradley on Friday.
The Irishman was hopeless at Edinburgh but Zebre have won two matches on the bounce, including a truly impressive win over previously unbeaten Ulster at the weekend.
“I don’t think we have any reason to be complacent around anything,” added Cockerill.
“If you take a measured view, we’ve had two good results at the start, Treviso was disappointing to say the least, and the last two weeks have been tough.
“We’ve probably seen over the last three weeks that Treviso, Cheetahs and Zebre have certainly got some credibility in the competition, because they’ve got some good results.
“It’s a very, very important game for us: we’ve got Zebre, then the European games, and then Treviso and Ospreys. If we have ambition of pushing into European qualification and/or trying to put pressure on the guys above us, we need to make sure we get a sound performance and a victory.”
And returning to referees…might Cockerill’s call for more objective whistling have carried more weight if he had made it when coaching the big dogs of Leicester and Toulon?
“It happens both ways,” he claims. “I’ve had situations at Leicester and Toulon where referees come to the home ground and referee differently because they don’t want to seem to be intimidated by the stadium!”