ANYONE tuning in to this evening’s 1872 Cup clash hoping for some light relief from the dark, Covid-shaped cloud hanging over us all at the moment is destined to be disappointed, according to Richard Cockerill.
It might be the only rugby match going ahead in the UK this weekend following the suspension on Monday of both the European Champions and Challenge Cups, but the Edinburgh head coach says that neither his team not the opposition are under any obligation to put on a show for neutral fans.
The cold hard currency of league points is all that matters for two sides battling to qualify for Europe next season, and although the all-weather surface at Scotstoun should allow for a quicker game than we saw in the first leg of this 1872 Cup series at Murrayfield on 2nd January, the likelihood is that we are in for another grim arm-wrestle.
“I’ve said it previously, if you want entertainment go to the theatre,” said Cockerill. “If you want a rugby match to be played like it should … rugby players play to win and we’ll be doing that tomorrow, and Glasgow will be doing the same.
Glasgow Warriors’ George Turner previews Edinburgh clash
“I’m not sure me and Danny [Wilson] could have a gentleman’s agreement where we say: ‘Don’t kick, let’s have a crack and wing it about, and whoever wins let’s share the points.’ That’s not how elite sport works.
“I think both sides will try to play when the opportunity arises but in big games involving teams that need points, generally it’s the team that makes the least mistakes and pounces on the others’ errors that wins the game. For us, it’s about league points and collecting as many as possible to get us up the conference table.”
While footballers have been ordered to tone down their goal celebrations this weekend in order to minimise the risk of spreading Covid, Cockerill joked that this is not an issue his team have to worry about. “You know us, we don’t score tries so that solves that problem doesn’t it,” he quipped.
“Our lads are very aware of it,” he added, with a bit more sincerity. “We try and be as strict as we can so if there are pinch moments in the match where there are tries or big moments to be celebrated the boys know they need to stay away from it.
“It’s no big deal because, as you know, in rugby you spend most of the time cuddling and being in close contact to each other in scrums, tackles, mauls or whatever. So, it doesn’t apply to us because of the nature of the game. You’re always going to have close contacts in rugby whereas football is a little different.”
Edinburgh will be without two of their most important forwards for tonight’s match due to flanker Jamie Ritchie – who signed a new five-year contract with the club earlier this week – picking up a head knock on training pitch and hooker Stuart McInally straining his neck whilst doing weights.
✍️ Jamie Ritchie has committed his future to Edinburgh Rugby by signing the longest contract in the club’s history.#BackYourBurgh 🔵🟠 pic.twitter.com/FyHPvSflSq
— Edinburgh Rugby (@EdinburghRugby) January 14, 2021
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Cockerill stresses that neither internationalist is expected to be a long-term absentee, although there appears to be some uncertainty about the specifics of McInally’s issue. “He’s just had a reaction to doing weights and we’re not sure what the extent of that is at the moment,” conceded the coach.
Cockerill has been able to unveil a series of high-profile signings and re-signings during the last fortnight as he looks to assemble a competitive squad for next season, and he promised that he is not finished yet – with extending Viliame (Bill) Mata’s contract being one of his major goals despite the eye-watering salary the Fijian No8 can command.
“There’s a little to tidy up and finish off, that’s moving all the time really,” he explained. “We’re still seeing where the market ends up. People have come into the market later because of Covid effecting budgets and so on. The key for us is getting a good balance in our squad and making sure we stay as competitive as possible through the international windows.
“As you can imagine, Bill’s a pretty popular character around the world so, like a lot of our guys, we’re in discussions about what we can do for him to stay,” he added. “He’s not a luxury at all. The key is that anyone would be happy to have Bill in their team across European rugby, or even one of the Japanese teams.
“So, I’d be reluctant to let someone of Bill’s quality leave, because once he leaves, you’re never going to replace that quality and X-Factor.”
“He’s an important player for us, so it’s ongoing around that situation.”