You have to wonder whether Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson reads the press these days given the less than flattering light it shines on him but you have to hope so, if only for Richard Cokerill’s sake.
The Edinburgh coach bypassed the normal in-house communication channels and sent a none-too-subtle hint to his boss regarding the level of funding given to Edinburgh Rugby, who are struggling to field a competitive team at the moment due to a slew of injuries and international call ups.
He doesn’t look much like Oliver Twist but Cockerill is definitely asking for some more… please, perhaps banking on that elusive Christmas spirit to loosen Murrayfield’s purse strings.
The net result of Edinburgh’s financial straitjacket was that last Sunday the club fielded a few rookies and lost to the Dragons, one of the minnows in the Guinness Pro14. Edinburgh now lie fourth in Conference B, three points behind third-placed Ulster, just out of the play-off places.
The squad arrived home from Wales in the small hours of Monday morning and much the same group of players will fly to Cork tomorrow for the Munster game on Friday evening with one full day of preparation under their belt. Munster are tricky opponents at the best of times and we are a long way from them if you listen to the head coach griping.
“You get home at two in the morning and three days later you are in Cork playing again. The scheduling is a bit average,” said Cockerill, although you can bet he had another adjective in mind.
With Edinburgh’s contingent of Scotland internationals still nursing bruises after a tough autumn Test schedule, the capital coach has one eye on the European Champions Cup ties coming up against Newcastle on 7 and 16 December.
“I am not going to pick ten international players so there is ten missing for a start,” he continues. “The reality is that you could take your best team to Munster and not win. There is no point dragging guys back from two and a half to three Test matches, then you take them to Cork and you compromise Europe for us.
“We are in a good place in Europe, we have to win three from four to qualify a bare minimum. We physically have not got the numbers to cope with where we are at the moment and to be putting out robust enough sides against Munster and give it a bash.
“The reality is we are missing ten internationals. The budget we are on, we promote within or take guys on loan. We are struggling to put a back five together with a bench. We have to look at the bigger picture. We have Newcastle back to back, then Glasgow back to back, then Kings then Toulon, Montpellier, Six Nations. There is far reaching thinking going on here.”
At least there is a sliver of good news from the front row because Darryl Marfo, who was in danger of becoming little more than a pub quiz question, will return to Edinburgh’s match day squad for the first time this season.
After coming from nowhere to make his international debut in the 2017 November Tests, including that near thing against the All Blacks, Marfo had slipped off everyone’s radar, unless you are a regular at Meggetland where Boroughmuir ply their trade. The prop forward last played a Pro14 fixture in March of this year but some improved performances in club land have landed him a second opportunity with Edinburgh.
Matt Scott will not be fit for this weekend’s trip but Cockerill is hoping to have his international centre available in time for the games against Newcastle.
“You have to deal with the reality of this and how we manage this properly. I can pick my best team this weekend but what will you get out of that? They have had a hard run and then you have to take them to Newcastle, Newcastle, Glasgow, Glasgow – that is the difference with the conferences. We are playing with Treviso, and they play Zebre three times a season, while we play Glasgow. It ain’t apples with apples.”
What Cockerill doesn’t allow is that the Southern Kings, with one win, are the worst team in the Pro14 and they appear in Edinburgh’s pool.
“It is part of the evolution of this club that now we are sitting with the union and saying ‘how does this work?’” he adds. “Maybe we need to look at the funding model of where we are at because this will continue.
“The reality is that the team we take to Munster shouldn’t win but we will prepare as well as we can and go with a mindset to win. In the games we have lost we have taken three losing bonus points and we have three try bonus points. We are still in the mix, not a million miles away from the top three. We will keep battling away.”