The 29-year-old Scotland flanker was handed a three-month suspension in October for gross misconduct and has been back in training since the turn of the year. His playing ban is up this week but Cockerill suggested he will most likely be released to his draft allocated club, Hawick, this weekend.
“John has been training well. I would think it unlikely that he will be involved this weekend because he hasn’t played for 14 weeks,” said the coach. “We’ll see what happens. He may play club rugby this weekend and get some time under his belt; we haven’t decided on that one yet.
“I could have brought him straight back. He could do it. But I could bring Luke Crosbie straight back as well, and he hasn’t been suspended for three months. You have to reward the guys who have been here doing their jobs.
“I’ll pick what I think is the best back row and John Hardie has to work his way back in.”
Cockerill denied that New Zealand-born Hardie, who has 16 caps, still had a period of unofficial parole to serve before being fully integrated back into the squad.
“Not at all. John has no more right to play in the side than Luke Crosbie or Lewis Carmichael, Magnus Bradbury, Viliame Mata or anyone,” he said.
“John is a good player and he will come back into the team when it’s right. But for this squad to have a sound work ethic guys have to work themselves back in. For the moment, John will sit in and around fifth/sixth choice because of the situation that has been well documented.”
Edinburgh’s job in Pool 4 of the European Challenge Cup is done following last Friday’s dramatic 34-33 win over the French side, which secured top spot and a home quarter-final. The issue of achieving a high seeding to boost chances of a home semi in the event of success in the last eight is also moot as there is a different system to the Champions Cup.
Nevertheless, Cockerill says Edinburgh will respect the competition and travel to the French capital with purpose.
“We’ll look after our squad but it will be a good team,” he said. “Being one of the top two seeds doesn’t guarantee a home semi-final because of the way it’s formatted. If you are an away quarter-finalist and you win you get a home semi.
“We’ll pick a good team and go there to try to win. It’s another experience for us to get right. We’ve had a big win and we need to try and back that up. If Stade win with a bonus they will put themselves in a position to qualify. It will be a good test for us.”
Cockerill is expecting a good chunk of his players to be named in Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations squad this morning and knows that is just the lot of a club coach.
“I want lads to play for their countries, whether that’s Scotland or Fiji or whoever,” he said. “That’s what guys want to do. There are some front-row issues and Scotland will go quite far down the pecking order and that will affect our squad, but I’m pleased for the guys. They work hard and they want to play for their country.
“If I think players are of the right quality then I’ll support that. Three months ago Blair Kinghorn wasn’t ready for Test match rugby, but he has probably worked hard enough and played well enough to get an opportunity.
“I will champion the causes of the guys who deserve it. If guys aren’t quite ready I will say so – as I have.
“What I want is for Edinburgh as a team to improve and for the players to have an environment to get better. That will push the international side.”