Edinburgh Rugby coach Richard Cockerill is to follow in the footsteps of his assistant Duncan Hodge and do a bit of cross-sport research during the off-season by picking the brains of his old friend, Hibernian manager Neil Lennon.
Attack coach Hodge joined up with the Scotland cricket team last week ahead of their momentous victory over England and Cockerill revealed that he will follow suit and exchange ideas with the former Celtic midfielder, whom he got to know when they played for Leicester Tigers and Leicester City respectively in the late 1990s.
“I will endeavour to catch up with Neil at some point and go and see what they do, or have a few beers with him, either or. We’ve socialised a little bit when we both played in Leicester. We’ve had a couple of quiet ones together occasionally,” said Cockerill with a smile at this week’s announcement of new Edinburgh club sponsors Principal & Prosper.
“He’s a good man. He’s a bit like me, he looks like he’s a thug but he’s quite intelligent. We were split at birth I think. Our paths crossed a little bit at sporting functions in Leicester and socially and he’s a good man. He wears his heart on his sleeve, but he’s a smart football brain. He’s passionate.
“The bits you see on the TV about his passion for his team, whichever one that is, to in the cold light of day having a chat with him as a football man and a manager. Clearly he’s pretty bright because he’s managed some big teams and got the best out of them, so don’t always judge the book by its cover.”
Cockerill feels like he and Lennon are kindred spirits and is looking forward to catching up with the Hibs boss after a whirlwind first year in the Scottish capital in which the Englishman has transformed Edinburgh and led them to arguably the best season in their history, with qualification for the Guinness Pro14 play-offs and the Heineken Champions Cup.
“We’re probably both very similar in that we’re just ordinary blokes who like what we do,” he continued. “So we’re both good as players and you try to transfer to the modern game. I think all players like to see coaches and managers who care about what they do, so it’s pretty evident that he cares about what he does.” The inspiration for the conversation is more of a sore point for Cockerill after Hodge, the hero of the 2000 Calcutta Cup win and former Scotland U19 cricketer, joined coach Grant Bradburn’s team and added his advice ahead of that historic one-day international triumph over world No 1 side England at The Grange on Sunday.
“I’m not much of a cricket man. I don’t want to talk about it,” said Cockerill with a laugh.
“Yeah it’s great… bugger off you lot will you! So, the [England] football team have drawn, the rugby team have lost and the cricket team have lost ever since I arrived!”
When Scotland beat England at Murrayfield in the Six Nations earlier this year Cockerill had to don a “See You Jimmy” hat at the following Monday’s training session after losing a bet with Hodge and defence coach Calum MacRae. There will be no such indignity this time and, in all seriousness, Cockerill is delighted that Hodge got to experience being part of more success on the back of Edinburgh’s resurgent season.
“Duncan mentioned it to me and asked if it was alright and I said it would be great experience, great fun,” said Cockerill. “He said he was going just to have a chat to the players about the rivalry of England-Scotland from a rugby point of view and clearly did the trick, because they won on Sunday and then lost last night [in the Twenty20 against Pakistan], so Duncan Hodge is the missing link!”
Cockerill is very much open to learning from other sports and looking forward to catching up with Lennon “once he gets back from his fancy villa somewhere”.
“It’s probably more around management and team dynamics than it is around the technical parts because they are obviously very different,” he said. “But from a management point of view and conditioning and how you deal with players and just how teams approach different things, it can be good. The feedback from Hodgey at the weekend was that it was quite relaxed, whereas rugby is condensed into that three hours of testosterone, whereas obviously you’ve got a cricket match that lasts all day and you’ve got a different focus.
“So there’s bits around that that are interesting and you learn, but just around dealing with players you probably find in lots of ways you have similar issues with managing players and egos and the young generation to the older generation, to agents… there’s lots of those things that are very similar that can pick coaches and managers’ brains around, how they deal with it.
“It’s just part of educating yourself a little bit more, being a bit more rounded from your own sport.”
Returning to rugby matters, Cockerill said discussions are ongoing about adding further to his squad as he looks to push on from last season’s breakthrough and prepare for exposure to the elite of Europe.
“We’re always looking to find good players,” said the coach. “We still haven’t replaced [scrum-half] Sam Hidalgo-Clyne yet which we’re still looking to do and we’ll always try to strengthen our squad if the players are available and the money’s available.
“I’ll always be going to the board if the right player comes up that I think will be good for the team, then we’ll always try to get the money to make it work.”
Cockerill’s public suggestion that he could get one of Glasgow’s No 9s, Henry Pyrgos, Ali Price or George Horne, was given a frosty response by Warriors coach Dave Rennie but the Englishman insists that remains a live possibility.
“That’s something I’ll continue to discuss with my bosses around if that’s a possibility,” said Cockerill. “If the right player is available and we can make it work financially we’ll go into the market-place and try to improve that position. If not, with [Nathan] Fowles and [Sean] Kennedy and young Charlie Shiel who’s gone on tour, we crack on.”
Cockerill has yet to decide on the club captaincy for next season. On his arrival he appointed 22-year-old Magnus Bradbury but then had to withdraw the honour after the youngster injured himself in some drunken shenanigans. Stalwart Fraser McKenzie took on the club leadership role with the week-to-week captaincy rotating among senior players.
The arrival of Scotland captain John Barclay would have made for an obvious new man for the job but the back-rower ruptured his Achilles in the Pro14 semi-final at Glasgow in what was his final game for Scarlets and is out for around six months.
Scotland tour captain Stuart McInally would be a strong contender after the hooker’s storming season but Cockerill said he will think about it later in the summer.
“Magnus is a young man that’s learned some valuable lessons, some on the field and a lot off the field, which is brilliant,” he said. “What happened to him wasn’t the end, it was about what he could learn from it and him being excluded from the squad made him doubly determined to come back and prove his worth and I think he’s done that.
“We’ll have a captain. Who that is I haven’t really thought too much about yet. Obviously John Barclay’s got lots of leadership ability, but he won’t be playing and when he’s available he may well be away with the national side.
“So it’s just trying to get the balance of do we have someone who’s going to be here more permanently week-in, week-out, day-in, day-out, and use the experience around that person which we may well do, we’ll see.”