Richard Cockerill is clearly expecting Edinburgh to be reunited with their controversial former flanker John Hardie in Friday night’s big Heineken Champions Cup encounter with Newcastle Falcons.
Cockerill faced an early test of his mettle at Edinburgh last year when the 16-times capped international openside was suspended for “gross misconduct” and was suspended by the club. He returned later in the season but was released in the summer.
The New Zealand-born 30-year-old was snapped up by Newcastle on a short-term deal at the end of October and, while not currently listed in the Falcons’ European squad, is likely to be rotated in this week after impressing for the Kingston Park outfit in recent weeks.
“He’s a very tough tackler and he’s very good over the ball. He has a good engine and just keeps going for the full game,” said Cockerill of his former charge.
“Hards is a good player and somebody we’ll need to keep him away from the ball.”
Cockerill prefers to look at the talent he will have at his disposal as he welcomes back a legion of internationalists for what will be an exciting end to the year with the 1872 Cup games coming after the European double header.
“The lads who have been playing for Scotland should be confident. Confidence isn’t a problem,” said the coach, who is hoping for a return to the heights of that stunning 40-14 win over Toulon at BT Murrayfield before the autumn Test series.
“We haven’t been together for six weeks, that’s the hard part for us. The good thing is that the majority of that forward pack have been playing together somewhere else [with Scotland]. Combinations around lineout and scrum they know, and they know each other. It’s not as if we are bringing them back from all corners of the world.
“We’ve got a confident group of players. The reflection of the past few weeks has not been of the real Edinburgh team because we’ve not had our players.
“Matt Scott won’t be available this week but will be available for the away game [next Sunday]. Fraser McKenzie’s getting there, should be ready for Glasgow. Lewis Carmichael’s still not right, John Barclay, Magnus Bradbury still aren’t fit but the rest are pretty much ready to go.”
A bit like Edinburgh, Newcastle emerged from the doldrums last season to secure a top-four spot in the English Premiership and a return to the elite competition.
This season has been more of a struggle in the league, with them lying bottom at present but they have risen to the occasion in Europe with famous wins over Toulon and Montpellier.
“[Director of rugby] Dean [Richards] has done a very good job wherever he’s been. [Coach] John Wells I know well. I played with him at Leicester and he gave me my first job in coaching – so you’ve got him to blame!
“So they’re good coaches and good people. They know the game very well. As much as their league position in the Premiership is tough for them, they’re playing good enough rugby to get out of that easily.
“They are two from two in Europe. They had a good win at the weekend at the death away at Northampton. They are still bottom of the league, though, so that just shows how tough the Premiership is. You can have one win and be sixth, or have one loss and end up bottom by the end of the weekend.
“They’ve actually been playing some pretty decent rugby. They beat Montpellier at home and Toulon away, beat Saints [Northampton] away and Bath at home recently, so their form has been okay the last couple of weeks.
“They’ve also had moments when they’ve been poor as well, which is not dissimilar to ourselves.”
Cockerill is looking forward to going up against another Leicester legend in the form of former England and Lions No 8 Richards.
“Dean’s a good man, great to play with and was a very good DoR when I’ve had dealings with him, he’s a very astute rugby brain,” said Cockerill. “It’s always good to pit your wits against people who brought you through and mentored you as coaches, certainly John Wells was for myself.”