Jamie Ritchie on his debt of gratitude to Richard Cockerill and using the emotion of Scotland v England

Richard Cockerill used to joke that he considered himself an adopted Scot during his time in charge of Edinburgh but there will be no mixed emotions when he returns to Murrayfield on Saturday.

He will once again have the red rose of England on his left breast as he heads north for a reunion of sorts.

Cockerill, now one of Eddie Jones’ lieutenants, is charged with ensuring the visitors’ pack makes life as difficult as possible for the hosts this weekend.

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Twelve of his former Edinburgh charges are in Scotland’s Calcutta Cup squad, including nine forwards.

Jamie Ritchie says Scotland will use the emotion of the occasion when they face England. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

It should give the former hooker plenty of ammunition to work with but Jamie Ritchie is not unduly worried. The Scotland flanker was a mainstay of Cockerill’s Edinburgh sides and says he owes his former coach a debt of gratitude for helping mould him into the international player he is today. But he doesn’t think Cockerill’s time in the capital offers him a significant advantage when it comes to Scotland v England.

“Most teams have a style, so there are things you can look into in terms of what they may or may not do,” said Ritchie.

“He may know some of the things we’ll look to try and do, but the specifics of it, no. He might have a bit of insight into us individually but I don’t know how that’s going to help them.”

So has Cockerill been in touch ahead of the sides’ Six Nations opener?

Jamie Ritchie, centre, with Hamish Watson, left, and George Turner after Scotland's Calcutta Cup win at Twickenham last year. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“Can’t say he has, no!” smiled Ritchie. “I spoke to Cocker when he got the England job, just to congratulate him and stuff but I’ve not spoken to him since then.”

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Cockerill bounced back quickly following his abrupt departure from Edinburgh in mid-July. By early September he had joined the England coaching staff as a forwards coach, working alongside Matt Proudfoot to “create a dominant forward pack”.

Proudfoot, the former Scotland prop, was already in situ and the pair divide duties between them.

Richard Cockerill alongside Jamie Ritchie during the former's time in charge at Edinburgh. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS

“I’m in charge of the lineout, attack and defence and the breakdown,” Cockerill said shortly after his appointment. “Matt will be in charge of the scrum. There are a lot of moving parts and I know Matt and myself can work together.”

Scotland won the forwards battle against England at Twickenham last year during what was a largely miserable Six Nations campaign for Jones’ team. They returned impressively in the autumn, notching impressive wins over Australia and South Africa, as Cockerill got his first chance to work with the squad.

Although it would be fair to say there were few tears shed in the Edinburgh changing room following Cockerill’s departure, Ritchie is in no doubt that the former England forward helped galvanise the club, saying he had “a massive impact” during his four years in charge.

“Cockers was head coach at Edinburgh when I had my breakthrough into the Scotland team,” said Ritchie. “He probably put Edinburgh in a better place than where we were before he came. I’ll always be thankful to him for that.

Richard Cockerill joined the England set-up as a forwards coach in September. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“At the time, when he came in, it was probably what we needed in terms of a harder edge and a clear direction. He brought that to the club. And, as I say, he was head coach when I got my opportunity with Scotland, so that must have had something to do with it.”

Ritchie is now a mainstay of the national side’s back row and, all being well, will win his 32nd cap on Saturday. He has faced England just twice before - a storm-tossed defeat at Murrayfield in 2020 when Ellis Genge got the game’s only try and last year’s history-rewriting win at Twickenham, Scotland’s first there in 38 years.

These are special matches but Ritchie knows Scotland must use the emotion of the occasion carefully. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and different players will channel their feelings in different ways but it is unlikely that any member of the Scotland squad will take to the pitch unaware of the importance of the Calcutta Cup.

“For a Scottish player, there is no bigger stage than a full Murrayfield against England,” said Ritchie. “It's a dream come true and we want to do that credit. For us, it’s about putting our best game out there.

“It’s up to individuals, depending on how you approach it. Some guys might want to think about it as just another game. Some guys will build it up as that’s what works for them.

“As a group we’ll certainly be playing on the emotion of it. It’s such a massive fixture in the rugby calendar. Gregor was telling us this morning that it’s the third oldest sporting trophy which is pretty cool.

“It’s a huge honour to get to play in this game and we need to show how much it means to us. That’s how I tend to look at it. When 67,000 people are coming to watch us you want to put your best foot forward.”

Jones spoke recently about the “hostile” atmosphere at Murrayfield. “I’m not very popular, so I’m sure I’m going to get plenty of the abuse and I’m happy to take that,” said the England coach.

Ritchie brushed aside such concerns

“I’ve never had a problem with the crowd at Murrayfield,” he deadpanned. “Is there extra tension there? Probably not.

“It’s Scotland vs England so it’s always a great atmosphere, whether at Murrayfield or Twickenham. There’s probably some banter within the crowd but I don’t think it’s ever in bad faith or bad blood.”

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