RICHARD Cockerill is a step closer to completing his squad for next season with the signing of 29-year-old Newcastle Falcons centre Juan Pablo Socino, but is still expected to make two or three more new recruits in the coming weeks. The Edinburgh coach has also decided which of his current players are surplus to requirements, with Phil Burleigh and Junior Rasolea – both centres – among those who will leave at the end of the season.
Socino, who can also play at stand-off, won four caps for Argentina in 2015 – two in the Rugby Championship and two in the World Cup – but since then the Pumas have ruled that only domestic-based players can represent them. He has signed a two-year contract with Edinburgh and will move north in the summer after four years with Newcastle, whom he joined after the same length of time with Rotherham.
“I’m thrilled to be joining Edinburgh next season in what I believe is an ambitious project that I can’t wait to get stuck into,” he said. “Edinburgh is a great city with a huge rugby culture and I want to contribute to that with everything I can. The opportunity to play in a new competition – the Guinness PRO14 – and in a new country is also hugely exciting from a personal point of view.”
Competition for places
With Mark Bennett and the returning Matt Scott likely to be Cockerill’s first-choice centre partnership next season, Socino faces a tough fight for game time in his preferred position. Chris Dean, who signed a two-year contract extension last month, is another who will be in the mix for a place in the matchday squad. James Johnstone has also agreed a two-year deal after initially being seconded from the Scotland Sevens squad, while Melrose centre George Taylor, a BT Sport Academy player, has been training with Edinburgh and could be in line for a deal.
While the likes of Bennett and Scott will hope to be away on Scotland duty at times next season, increasing Socino’s chances of playing in his preferred position, he could also find that his ability to slot in at 10 stands him in good stead.
Current stand-offs Duncan Weir and Jason Tovey will both depart at the end of the season, leaving Jaco van der Walt and the incoming Simon Hickey as the only out-and-out 10s in the squad. In addition to the departing Burleigh, Blair Kinghorn can also step into the role, but his increasing value as a full-back at both club and international level makes it improbable that he will be shunted around.
But wherever he plays, Socino’s ability and experience should prove extremely useful over the course of a campaign. “We’re really pleased that Juan will be joining the club next season,” Cockerill said.
“He’s a fantastic player, who has showcased his attacking talents at both Newcastle and Rotherham. He’s an experienced, strong ball-carrier and he will only improve our squad heading into next season.”
Edinburgh are off this weekend as the Six Nations Championship resumes, but are back in action a week on Friday with a PRO14 match against Munster at BT Murrayfield. They then visit Connacht a week later before welcoming Cardiff for the Challenge Cup quarter-final on the last day of the month.