EDINBURGH’s defensive defects were there for all to see on Friday night, but so too was their versatility in attack. Matt Scott, Duhan van der Merwe, Blair Kinghorn and Dougie Fife got the tries in their 31-30 win over Benetton, Stuart McInally was one of several forwards who might also have got on the score sheet, and Chris Dean made the touchdown for Kinghorn with a break that sliced open the Italian defence.
While the team have had a patchy start to the season, it is worth remembering just how far they have come relatively quickly. Scott, for one, certainly needs no reminding of the progress that has been made. There were times during his first spell with Edinburgh when the centre was just about the only real threat in a back division which played a very distant second fiddle to the pack. Now, having returned in the summer after two seasons with Gloucester, the 28-year-old is part of a far more incisive attacking force.
The reason for that improvement is not just the recruitment of quality players and the growing maturity of others, but also the atmosphere around the squad, thanks in large part to the man who persuaded Scott to return home, head coach Richard Cockerill.
A new vision
“There’s no one easy answer,” Scott says when asked to pinpoint the difference between the Edinburgh side which he left in 2016 and the one which he rejoined a couple of months ago. “There are a lot of different things. A lot of it stems down to culture around the club and ambition.
“That manifests itself in a lot of the little things that Cockers has brought in. Discipline around training, what kit to wear, punctuality, things like that.
“He’s brought a different set of eyes from a career where he has won a lot of trophies and he knows how a successful club operates. It was easy for him to see where he can come from and where we were to bring it up to that standard.
“At the start of my second season at Gloucester, if somebody had said to me I’d be back at Edinburgh I probably wouldn’t have believed them. This was before Cockers had taken over, but it just shows the impact he had.
“Speaking to players I kept in contact with, they were all very complimentary of him. As it transpired things didn’t work out for me at Gloucester, and to be at your hometown club with really good friends with chances to potentially win silverware – that’s what you really want to do. Also to have the ambition to still play for Scotland with the World Cup so close round the corner – it’s a great place for me to try and do that.”
Cockers and the art of persuasion
Although the national team management has long been eager to have as many members of the Scotland squad playing their rugby in this country, it was Cockerill himself who was instrumental in persuading Scott to come back. “It was all through him. Before I signed I met him for a good chat and a coffee.
“He’s a frank and honest guy. He knows what the Premiership is like, especially at Gloucester – we get big crowds every week. He said ‘Look, it’s still not like that at Edinburgh, but they are changing’. We’re still not where we want to be, but we are ambitious.
“He’s very much focused on Edinburgh as a club. As a by-product of us doing well you have a better chance of being picked for Scotland. I liked the fact that he didn’t see Edinburgh as a sort of holding pen for Scotland players until the Autumn Tests or the Six Nations came around.
“Standards were being driven every week and I’ve seen that since I came in. Coaching has been top class and I feel I’m improving every week.
“At the end of the day your club rugby is your bread and butter, you play week in and week out, so if that part of it wasn’t right . . . If I felt that Edinburgh wasn’t a good enough team I definitely wouldn’t have come back.
“If there was no improvement from when I’d left, I’d rather have taken my chances and played week in and week out at an English club and taken the risk of playing outside of Scotland. Obviously there’s no rule about players playing outside of Scotland and not being selected for Scotland, but I’ve seen since I’ve come back the national coaches have a lot more exposure to you, to your training – they’re often down watching training and I’ve noticed that big difference since I’ve been back. It is slightly more difficult when you’re playing in a different league.”
It is perhaps only natural that coaches, like players or anyone else, should take more notice of people or things that are closer to them. Scott certainly found that to be the case in England, where many of his team-mates and rivals appeared to be blissfully unaware of anything outside of their own league.
“When I moved down, a lot of English players hadn’t heard of the boys in the Scotland team. It was around the time when Glasgow beat Leicester by 40 points at Welford Road and they were baffled by it. I was like, ‘Well, he’s a British Lion and he’s got 50 caps for Scotland,’ – and they just didn’t have a clue. The Premiership is a great league and everyone’s just focused on the players in that league.
“With Scotland beating England last year, and with the success that Glasgow have had over the last couple of years, the perception is changing. But they just seem to not know much about the PRO14 or Scottish rugby.”
- Matt Scott was speaking at the launch of Edinburgh Rugby’s partnership with Dentons. The law firm, which has Scottish offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, will have its name on the collars of the team’s jerseys.