Rugby: Cochrane is aiming to go from strength to strength

Edinburgh rugby exile Neil Cochrane is preparing to take his professional rugby career into overdrive on the back of a "player of the year" honour at his Doncaster Knights club.

Captain of a Scotland under-21 side containing subsequent Capital stars Nick De Luca, Ben Cairns and Ross Ford when England were beaten at Northampton in 2006, former Boroughmuir and Watsonians back row Cochrane was forced to look south of the Border and the highly-competitive English Championship for the chance to play full-time.

But, all the signs are that the switch is now paying dividends in a way that suggests the best may lie ahead for the 26-year-old.

"To be voted player of the year by Doncaster's fans was a huge honour - and a surprise," admitted Cochrane, adding: "not only did I miss the first ten games of last season due to injury but I also played a bit at No.8 rather than in my more familiar flanker role.

"It seems sombody must have been impressed and the recognition boosted me going into pre-season training which started in England three weeks ago.

"There's no doubt this is a big season for me having signed a one-year extension to my current contract and the prospect of a new coach taking over at Doncaster next Spring when Lynn Howells (ex-Edinburgh) has decided he'll be moving on."

The British and Irish Cup, for which the draw has just been made, should give Cochrane a further platform to exhibit his skills outwith the Championship for the second successive year.

"Although English clubs may tend to use the B&I Cup to involve all their squad players at Doncaster we were pleased to get on a run through to the semi-finals where we lost to eventual winners Cornish Pirates.

"It was good to be tested by different styles from around Britain and Ireland and our run contributed to a hectic spell where we played nine games in 27 days, winning eight.

"Highlight of the domestic season was going close against eventual champions Exeter who edged us out by just two points and it was good to see two of their players, Bryan Rennie and Andy Miller, getting called up by Scotland A as did Doncaster colleague Stuart Corsar."

Murrayfield bosses have appeared reluctant to look closely at the Championship for talent and it is significant that Alex Grove moved to Edinburgh from relegated Worcester to bolster cap chances.

But Cochrane insists there are rich pickings available including at his own club where former Dunfermline star Stephen McColl is making a big name for himself.

"Stephen has moved from centre to full back where his angles of running on the ball and phenomenal kicking are a big asset.

"From conversations we've had Stephen would, like me, love to return home if an opportunity arises and I do believe that by playing in Scotland you are going to get noticed a bit more.

"My enthusiasm to climb a bit higher has been partly fuelled, too, by Scotland scrum coach Massimo Cuttita being a regular visitor to Doncaster training through his friendship with Lynn Howells.

"Massimo is always encouraging our Scottish contingent - Stuart Corsar, Steven Lawrie, Stephen McColl, Dougie Flockhart and myself - to aim for the A side as a first step and hopefully the season ahead can be a real springboard for all of us.

"Personally, I'm confident that all I would need is an opportunity while recognising some outstanding back row talent in Scotland at the moment, notably Roddy Grant and John Barclay."

"This is a big season for me having signed a one-year extension to my current contract"