RICHARD COCKERILL has confirmed that Scotland international John Hardie is on the list of senior Edinburgh players who will leave the club during the summer. The New Zealand-born flanker served a three-month SRU imposed suspension earlier this season for alleged cocaine use, but the coach stated yesterday that financial considerations and the need to balance the squad on a tight budget had been the driving factor in the decision not to renew the 29-year-old’s contract.
“John won’t be staying. He is the same as a lot of other guys. We have a lot of young guys coming through and financially we need to spread our costs,” said Cockerill.
“It is about getting value out of our budget. We have guys like Jamie Ritchie and Luke Crosbie coming through – both can play seven and are doing well. Hamish Watson is first choice for Scotland, then add in Barclay who can play along the back row, Viliame Mata, Magnus Bradbury and Lewis Carmichael – that is a lot of good back-row players. We need to get value from the squad. We are trying to get a balance from forwards to backs.”
It has already been confirmed that Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Cornell du Preez, Duncan Weir, Jason Tovey, Phil Burleigh and Junior Rasolea are moving on in the summer. There has been no confirmation from Edinburgh on the status of last summer’s marquee signing Robbie Fruean, but it is understood that he has been forced to retire on health grounds.
In the opposite direction, international centres Matt Scott and Juan Pablo Socino will join up with the squad during the summer, while in recent weeks it has been announced that scrum-half Charlie Shiel, stand-off Jason Baggott and hooker David Cherry have been promoted to full-time contracts from within the SRU’s performance development pathways, and Cockerill’s recruitment drive is not over yet.
“We’re still looking at a couple of props potentially to bring in because we need to strengthen that area with guys getting taken for the national side,” he explained.
“The international periods are going to be more and more important if we’re going to compete. We’ve done all right this season so far in that international window, but the better this team gets the more I’d expect people to be taken for the national team, so it’s trying to get a balance there as well. And if there’s injuries you start getting to two or three deep in your squad and it really affects you.”
Edinburgh are back in action on Friday night when they finally get round to playing their match against Munster at Murrayfield which was snowed off a fortnight ago. It is a tough mission for Cockerill’s men, but having already claimed the scalps of Leinster at home, and both Ulster and the Dragons away, they have every reason to feel confident about their prospects.
Furthermore, with Gregor Townsend calling four Glasgow Warriors players into his training squad yesterday, Cockerill anticipates that he will have a bit more time with his fringe Scotland players than he would have had his rivals in the west also had a game.
“Scotland obviously takes precedence over what we’re doing but I have a good relationship with Gregor and between us we’re trying to work it out,” said the Edinburgh coach. “Glasgow don’t play, so training-wise we’ve probably had more guys released to come and train with us for our important game on Friday. We’re grateful for that, because it helps us in preparation.
“Scotland have an important game, so whatever they need they’ll take and rightly so, but it does make sense that guys like Mark Bennett and Ben Toolis come back into our group, and guys like Cornell du Preez, John Hardie and Magnus Bradbury train with us, because they are very important to us. It means we can put out a good side on Friday and see where we get to.”
The Six Nations window is always a disjointed spell in the season for the pro teams and particularly so for Edinburgh this year because of the Munster postponement, but Cockerill is determined to see that enforced rescheduling as a positive.
“The snow is what it is, but we had three big games and a few guys with bumps and bruises, so a little break probably didn’t hurt us too much. We’ve got a hell of a run now until the end of the season to try to do something with the year: Munster, Connacht away, then into Europe, then a run-in of Ulster, Scarlets and Glasgow. It’s tough, isn’t it?
“We’ve got some big games to try to win and we want to try to be in the play-offs. We’ve given ourselves an opportunity – whether we’re good enough to stay there we’ve yet to see – but it will be nice to get the Scotland boys back in. We’ve got everything to play for, so we’re looking forward to it.”