Adam Hathaway says Leicester must wonder just why it was they sacked Richard Cockerill and asks why it took 40 minutes for sanity to prevail in Clermont.
RugbySpy’s record with predictions is not exactly at the Mystic Meg level but we have at least got one right in the last couple of years. Not a great return but as this is the 200th missive we have posted since early in 2015 we will take anything we can get and if you throw enough stuff out there some of it will stick.
In February 2017 when Richard Cockerill was appointed as boss at Edinburgh we messaged one of our colleagues who works for the Scottish edition of The Sunday Times and told him he was in for some fun and games.
Cockerill is gold dust with the press but has proved, again, he can coach a bit too and Leicester, who got pumped by the Scarlets on Saturday night in Llanelli, and are out of Europe already, must wonder why they got rid of him just after the season of so-called goodwill two years back.
They must also wonder why they took so long to appoint Cockerill to the top job at Welford Road and passed him over for a succession of other coaches before finally biting the bullet and giving him the head honcho gig in 2009.
We got that one prediction spot on though with the antics that are going on in Edinburgh. Cockerill is fun on and off the field, what is not to like?
And our Scottish mates are having a ball.
On Saturday evening at Toulon’s brilliant Stade Mayol Cockerill’s Edinburgh beat the hosts 28-17 becoming only the third side to win in the Champions Cup there after Saracens and Newcastle.
This is a very big deal and knowing Cockers his team would have been celebrating long into the night in the bars down by the port. Old school methods have been in the news recently but that is one school method that needs preserving even in these days of energy gels and GPS trackers.
And knowing Cockers his team would have been straight back in on Monday morning for an assessment of what they didn’t do right ahead of their round six match against Montpellier at the weekend. He might even smile about Bill Mata’s worldie off-load that made a try for centre James Johnstone on Saturday but he won’t be encouraging any of his other players to try it.
And knowing Cockers his press briefing ahead of that final pool match will be an all-ticket affair and a riot. He never ducks a question, calls a spade a digging implement an will give you the low down on everything from Head Injury Assessments to high tackles to treatment of players to treatment of coaches.
The Englishman, who won 27 caps for his country as an abrasive hooker, has been a breath of fresh air north of Hadrian’s Wall. Edinburgh are no mugs and know a good coach when they see one and they have signed up Cockerill until 2021.
We wrote about his sacking from Leicester two Januarys ago and predicted he would not be out of work for long and he wasn’t. That is two in four years that have hit the bullseye from our crystal ball department.
After being at Welford Road for the best part of two decades, as player and coach and winning trophies for a hobby apart from a short spell hooking for Clermont, Cockerill was shown the door.
RugbySpy covered his final game in charge at Leicester, a 16-12 defeat to Saracens on New Year’s Day 2017, and the director of rugby was his usual ebullient self in the post-match press scuffle.
He even told us he would see us all at the Leicester training ground the following Tuesday for his usual press briefing. That didn’t work out as he got the bullet the next day and tea and biscuits with Cockerill at Oadby Park were off the menu for the hack pack.
Then he moved to Toulon to help out with their coaching and, lo and behold, Mourad Boudjellal’s outfit made it to the Top14 final where they went down 22-16 to Clermont but Cockerill was back and Edinburgh snapped him up for the next campaign.
They are currently second, to the mighty Leinster, in Conference B of the Pro14, and now have a shot at European glory.
Cockerill went through things like a dose of salts when he arrived in Edinburgh. As a no-nonsense sort of bloke he said he wanted to poke the Glasgow bear and put his team on an even footing with their nearest and not-so dearest – he has done that for sure.
He was appalled when he arrived to find out that some players were driving from one end of the training centre to the other during the week.
That was swiftly kicked into touch.
Cockerill also told the Edinburgh squad their fortunes. He reckoned too many of them were show ponies who were using the club to get ready for international duty and got them all in for breakfast early ahead of every training session during the week.
And it has worked to such an extent that Cockerill was even name-checked by the acting RFU CEO Nigel Melville recently at a press conference when he was asked who was in the running to succeed Eddie Jones as the next England head coach.
Hell will freeze over before Cockerill gets that gig. He has had his fair share of run-ins with the suits at Twickenham although given that we have only got a couple of things right in the last four years he is probably being measured up for an RFU blazer now.
But he has done a staggering job at Edinburgh. Just as Stuart Lancaster has reinvented himself at Leinster so Cockerill has done in Scotland and as usual he has ruffled a few feathers.
Edinburgh have only made the last eight of Europe’s premier club competition twice and they are on the verge of making it three. Typically Cockerill wants more because on average only one in four teams win away quarter-finals in this competition.
“We still haven’t qualified yet and we’ve got to do a job next week against Montpellier to make sure of that and hopefully try and get a home quarter-final,” he said in France.
“Montpellier will come with a rock-star team. Our togetherness and the sum of our parts have got to be better than their individuals again.”
Typical Cockers and, typically, a mixture of business and fun. Penny for the thoughts of the Welford Road faithful.
The European Challenge Cup often gets put in the cupboard like an errant sibling until the knock-out stages start but Saturday produced a belter in Clermont.
The Stade Marcel Michelin might just have the best atmosphere at any ground we have attended over the years and the Clermont Vulcans, as their fans are known, were out in force. A bonkers game against Northampton did not disappoint either.
The record books will show that Clermont won 48-40 in a match of 13 tries and Saints’ No.8 Teimana Harrison finished up on the losing side despite scoring a hat-trick.
What the record books will probably not record is that the teams were as good as indistinguishable before half time.
Clermont, normal home kit yellow, ran out in dark blue whilst Northampton, who should have been sporting their black, green and yellow combo, ran out in black.
As the game was played in the middle of the night it made it hard for fans and the referee to work out who was who and you wondered what the discussions were between teams and officials during the week.
Rugby needs all the dough it can get so we get the second, third, fourth, fifteenth and Extra B kit argument to get the fans, if they are gullible enough, buying the replicas.
What we don’t get is how teams can pitch up at kick-off with such similar kits on. Surely Northampton had a topaz version of their rag up on the team bus.
Fortunately sanity prevailed when Clermont changed into a white strip for the second half. Sanity did not prevail on the pitch though as the game descended into a tackling optional, 15-a-side version of sevens. At least we could see who was who by then though.