Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors: Richard Cockerill accuses of Danny Wilson of ‘getting his excuses in’
Richard Cockerill was up to his old tricks yesterday, nurturing a sense of grievance ahead of his Edinburgh side’s 1872 Cup clash with Glasgow at Murrayfield.
Warriors, he said, were the favourites despite their recent woes. They have a bigger budget than Edinburgh and, because of that, a deeper squad with some very good players.
The capital coach seemed unmoved by Glasgow’s travails which, in brief, include a Covid outbreak and a run of injuries which has deprived them of key personnel including Adam Hastings, Alex Allan, Fraser Brown, Leone Nakarawa, Tommy Seymour, Kyle Steyn and George and Pete Horne.
The lost list of absentees has been well aired and Cockerill, with a mischievous glint in his eye, accused opposite number Danny Wilson of “getting his excuses in” ahead of the match.
All is fair in love and war and derby matches and the inter-city fixture offers a chance for the Edinburgh coach to air his long-held contention that Glasgow remain the SRU’s favoured sons.
“It's Edinburgh against Glasgow so we are definitely not favourites,” he said. “The reality is that they are a good squad. They still operate on a bigger budget than Edinburgh so they should have a good squad.”
Asked if he had brought up the budget discrepancy with Mark Dodson, the SRU’s head honcho, Cockerill said: “Every time I speak to him! Those are private conversations. It is what it is, so I just want people to understand where we sit in it all.”
Where both clubs sit currently is second bottom of their respective conferences in the Guinness Pro14. It’s a far cry from recent seasons when we have become accustomed to at least one of our pro sides challenging at the right end of the table.
The autumn showed that neither Edinburgh nor Glasgow can be truly competitive without their phalanx of Scotland internationals and it makes today’s derby match a scrap for points as the teams to look to climb the table and challenge for European places.
“I don't think Glasgow are a poor team in any shape or form,” said Cockerill as he pondered Wilson’s selection. “They should pick from strength because they have a deep squad and some very good players.
“We as a group here, both players and coaches, have never thought this is an easy game or an easy win. We respect them. They are a good team with very good players. Like ourselves, they have the odd body missing but that is a very good forward pack. And that backline – Huw Jones, Lee Jones, Grigg, Johnson, Tagive, Thomson, Price - it's pretty sharp.
“We expect a tough game. It sounded during the week that Danny was getting his excuses in, didn’t it?”
Wilson, for his part, denied overplaying the effects of the Covid outbreak which saw 20 Warriors players isolate for ten days.
“You guys asked the questions I answered them so Richard can have his little opinion, that’s fine, no problems,” said the Glasgow coach.
Trying to get under a rival coach’s skin is a well-worn managerial ploy and Cockerill was also happy to pontificate on how he expected Wilson’s side to play this afternoon.
“We know each other pretty well,” he said. “It’s not a secret how Edinburgh are going to play. It doesn't take much working out. It has been tough for Danny and [his assistant] Jonny Bell because they've come into a new environment with no pre-season. All coaches want to make slight changes.
“Glasgow have always had an expansive game. They are very dangerous on the counter-attack and they are a team who want to play with ball in hand. They are trying to get the balance to that.
“Although we are credited with being a set piece, kicking team, in the last four years we’ve scored lots of tries and won some very big games. Danny and I will just look at whatever is right to win the game. When you need points and are under pressure to win games you need to do whatever you need to do.”
Cockerill has made five changes to the side which beat Sale in the Champions Cup last month, recalling Scotland internationals Jamie Ritchie, Darcy Graham, Henry Pyrgos, and WP Nel, while also bringing Pierre Schoeman back into the front row.
Ritchie comes in at openside , with Magnus Bradbury dropping to the bench, while Graham starts on the wing in place of Jack Blain. The return of co-captain Pyrgos at scrum-half means Charlie Shiel drops out, while loosehead Schoeman and tighthead Nel are picked ahead of Rory Sutherland and Simon Berghan as the props are rotated.
“We are both in critical need of points to make sure we are in touch with the teams in second and third places,” added Cockerill. “I think top spot will be beyond both teams.
“We want to be competitive and we want to win every time we play. This period of two weeks, and then two weeks in Europe leading into the six Nations window is going to be really important. We want to be competing in Europe next year so the realistic target is to qualify for Europe and get as far in the European competitions as we can.”
The return of Ritchie alongside Hamish Watson and Bill Mata gives the Edinburgh back row a look of solidity and the match-up with Glasgow’s Ryan Wilson, Tom Gordon and Matt Fagerson promises to be one of the game’s key battlegrounds
“The breakdown’s always going to be important with and without the ball,” said Cockerill. “I expect it to be a hotly contested area with who we have there and Fagerson, Gordon and Wilson - that’s a good balanced back row and they’re very good players.
“But I like the look of our back row as well, with Bradbury to add something to the team later in the game. I’m looking forward to the battle across the board.”