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Page last updated at 10:37 GMT, Sunday, 17 May 2009 11:37 UK

Cockerill crowing in coaching role

Richard Cockerill
Richard Cockerill celebrates with the Guinness Premiership trophy

By Phil Harlow
BBC Sport at Twickenham

What's all the fuss about this coaching business?

Spend a few months in the job, win the league, job done. And while we're at it, might as well have a pop at winning the Heineken Cup next weekend.

Apologies for the slight oversimplification, but that is more or less what Leicester coach Richard Cockerill has done since taking the helm in difficult circumstances after South African Heyneke Meyer left for personal reasons in January.

The former Tigers hooker was only 'acting' head coach until last month, when he was confirmed in the role permanently.

But his side's form at the business end of the season - Saturday's win over London Irish in the Guinness Premiership final meant they have lost just one of their last 13 games - has been a revelation.

Richard Cockerill
I am a lot more tolerant of things that would have been unacceptable to me as a player

Richard Cockerill

"It could have been worse..." was Cockerill's modest assessment when it was put to him that he had made the perfect start to his coaching career.

But the assured, personable and relaxed coach accepting the plaudits at Twickenham was not what fans who remember him as a no-nonsense player might expect.

For many, the abiding image of Cockerill will be the belligerent England hooker going nose-to-nose with opposite number Norm Hewitt while the All Blacks performed the haka at Old Trafford in 1997.

He went on to have a fight with Hewitt after a boozy night out in New Zealand a year later, and was jettisoned from the international scene after an ill-advised attack on England coach Sir Clive Woodward in his autobiography.

But the years have mellowed Cockerill, and his initial foray into the high-pressure world of coaching has revealed a shrewd, intelligent operator.

"Now I can deal with players who have dyed hair and wear white boots, who laugh and joke before games, but who turn up and play well," he said recently.

"I am a lot more tolerant of things that would have been unacceptable to me as a player."

Leicester through and through, Cockerill detached himself from any sense of sentiment as he took the decision to leave out club captain Martin Corry, who is retiring at the end of the season after 12 years of sterling service for the club, in favour of younger options at Twickenham.


Despite his stunning introduction to the world of coaching, Cockerill refused to talk up his contribution to the first half of what Leicester hope is a famous league and European double.

"This club is about the players, every rugby club should be about the players," said Cockerill.

"It's not about the coach - I was only a small percentage of what went on out there. The players have worked really hard and the attitude they've shown with the circumstances over the last 18-24 months has been fantastic."

Cockerill freely admitted that his side had not played well against the Exiles, and that it was a game they may well have lost.

But the hard edge ingrained in the Leicester way of doing things shone through when he suggested that his side would not have followed the example of London Irish by opting for a series of scrums just before half-time, rather than for shots at goal.

"I'm a big fan of taking points when they're on offer," Cockerill said. "They went for the kill and fair play - I would have taken the points but I'm not going to criticise anyone for their decisions."

For all the razzmatazz and electric atmosphere inside HQ, the match never really took off with both coaches identifying the ferocious contest for possession at the breakdown as one of the primary reasons why.

Toby Booth
At the end, the boys were saying 'get used to this, because we're going to be back here next year and win it'

Toby Booth

Exiles boss Toby Booth, also in his first season in full charge of his club, admitted his players could learn lessons from what he dubbed "the streetwise factor" integral to every Leicester team.

"For large parts of the game we were the superior side, but it comes down to capitalising on what you create - we didn't do that enough, and we'll have to learn," said Booth.

"If you want to beat Leicester, you have to be streetwise and at the end of the day, there was one point in it, that's all. You can't be surprised when it's like that against Leicester."

For all his talk of becoming more "streetwise" Booth insisted there will be no dilution of the attacking style of play that made his side the Premiership's top try-scorers in the regular season.

"It won't change, that's the way we play," he said as he looked to the future with optimism.

"I'm delighted with what we've achieved. And the encouraging signs are there from an ambition point of view.

"In the huddle at the end, the boys were saying 'get used to this, because we're going to be back here next year and win it'.

"I wanted to turn London Irish into a league side rather than a cup side and I think that we've done that. It's a good grounding for us to kick on and be a constant force.

"Now if we want to be not just a Premiership side, but also a Heineken Cup side then you have to be able to mix it with the big boys on every level. We certainly can from an attacking point of view, and I think that over the last few weeks we've shown we can do in defence and in contact as well."

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see also
Leicester 10-9 London Irish
16 May 09 |  English
Improve or forget double - Murphy
16 May 09 |  English
As it happened - Leicester v London Irish
16 May 09 |  Rugby Union
Guinness Premiership final photos
16 May 09 |  Rugby Union
Cockerill secures Tigers position
17 Apr 09 |  Leicester
Meyer resigns as Leicester coach
28 Jan 09 |  Leicester

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