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Richard Cockerill: 'We're probably too good for this tournament'

By Liam Heagney
Georgia celebrate in Paris after beating Portugal on Sunday night (Photo by Antonio Borga/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

It was getting on towards midnight on Sunday in Paris when Richard Cockerill got around to the final commitment of his evening, sharing a few minutes with RugbyPass to run the rule over a maiden Rugby Europe Championship campaign with Georgia and pondering what might be done to help the Eastern Europeans reach the next level.

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We know they can be a serious side. Wins over Wales and Italy in 2022 illustrated how they can mix it with certain tier-one countries, but the fallout from a disappointingly winless Rugby World Cup was to separate from Levan Maisashvili and go a different direction with Cockerill.

What nagged was how their traditional power game, namely their scrum, was off the boil at France 2023, an adventure that left them soundly beaten by a poor Australia, held to a draw by Portugal, not quite fully at it in the five-point loss to Fiji, and then too easily swatted aside by a 24-point margin by Wales.

Video Spacer

Richard Cockerill on Georgia’s dangerous finishers

The Georgian head coach discusses the quality attacking threats his side have in both the backs and the back row.

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Richard Cockerill on Georgia’s dangerous finishers

The Georgian head coach discusses the quality attacking threats his side have in both the backs and the back row.

Instead of finishing a minimum third best, they were fifth and last. Horrible. Cockerill became their next move over the winter. The former England assistant was suddenly at a loose end, sacked in November by Montpellier after just seven games.

Something had gotten lost in translation with his move to France, but the early feelers are that he and Georgia are on a better wavelength.

It was January 18 when he was officially unveiled as their new boss and just eight and a half weeks later, he was a happy camper in the tunnel at Stade Jean Bouin, the stadium that is just yards across the road from Parc de Princes where he famously helped Leicester to their spectacular Heineken Champions Cup win over Stade Francais way back in 2001.

Georgia had just accelerated past the Portuguese by an impressive 36-10, their second-half power shift through the gears transforming a 12-3 interval lead into something far more substantial. He sure was pleased by what he saw, his team’s fifth and final win in recent weeks allowing him to breathe easy and even break out an uncharacteristic smile.

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“Good win,” he exclaimed. “We played pretty well and can play better, which is nice. Portugal are a good side. They have been very threatening in their pool games and they are a very dangerous team. So, happy with how we defended, happy with our game plan to contain their threats and a decent win in the end.

“Our defence was very good. They [Portugal] are a very dangerous side ball in hand as we have seen in the World Cup and in recent weeks when they have played in this competition. Defensively very good and our power game – historically we have prided ourselves on the set-piece, especially our scrum.

“In the last 18 months that has probably not been as strong as we would have liked. With the transition of some of the younger guys coming in who are hungry to show what they can do, I thought certainly our scrum and our power game was the difference.”

It was just six months ago when Georgia were surprisingly held to an 18-all draw by the Portuguese down the road in Toulouse in their second France 2023 pool match. That setback hadn’t been forgotten by the players.

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“They knew they had let themselves down a little bit in their own words, so we worked hard at training, we had a very clear game plan of what we were going to do and the players, the one thing I have learned from Georgians is they are never not committed physically, so it’s just making sure we are smart enough to deliver the game plan that we came into the game with and I thought they did that really well.”

The cup final win sealed a seventh-successive Rugby Europe Championship title for the Georgians. Too good for their level, not quite good enough to step above that. It’s a purgatory that Cockerill wants investigated.

“There was a real edge because Portugal were a team that were definitely good enough to beat us and probably should have beaten us in the World Cup. With respect to all the other teams we are probably too good for this tournament and at the moment maybe we’re not quite good enough to be dining at the same table as the Super Rugby teams or the (UR) Championship teams or the Six Nations.

“There’s a real balance there where we just need to try, the politicians above me will decide where is best for us to play moving forward at some point. The thing we have got to do is just keep improving and playing a good brand of rugby and being as successful as we can.”

Games against Fiji, Japan and Australia are over the hill for them in the summer. For now, Cockerill will be glad the Georgians have a bit of their old swagger back and that normal tier-two European service has been capably resumed.

“You always want to win as a coach but it’s important for Georgia because you lose tonight and suddenly Portugal are the ones everybody is talking about promoting up and not Georgia, so it was important that we won tonight.

“I obviously coached at a high level at club and country. The expectation is as high here as any team I have coached, which seems quite strange when we are a tier-two team, but the expectation of the board and the expectation of the supporters and the country is that we win every time we play.”

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Comments

17 Comments
f
finn 118 days ago

The events at this year’s six nations should undermine many of the arguments made against promotion and relegation between the six nations and the REC.

If Italy had been allowed to yo-yo between divisions it conceivably could have really hurt their development, but if Italy, Wales, and Scotland are all at risk of relegation, with none of them being relegated more often than once every 3 or 4 years, you’d have to back all of them to muddle on through it, especially when you factor in the likelihood they’ll still be guaranteed world league matches against tier 1 opponents.

Another way of looking at italys resurgence would be to say that the development model of adding an extra team to the six nations has worked, and now must be done again. Georgia could join to make it a 7 team round robin, and if and when Georgia demonstrate an ability to consistently win games, Portugal can also be added to make it an 8 team 2 conference competition.

Frankly at this point I think it falls to world rugby to demand that the 6N act in the interests of the game. If the 6N won’t commit to expansion then the 6N teams should be handicapped in world cup draws (i.e. world cup seedings would not be based on their ranking points, but on their ranking points minus a 5 point penalty).

D
Diarmid 119 days ago

Cockerill was an abrasive player in the mould of a Georgian front rower who will have the respect of that pack. Looking forward to seeing what he can do with this exciting team, hopefully they can send a message to unions like Wales that money alone doesn't buy you wins.

J
JD Kiwi 119 days ago

I like the look of those July matches. Hopefully they'll get some good tests in November too.

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William 5 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Correct analysis of Perofeta’s bungling of the try opportunity Ben. Never ‘fixed’ Steward as he came across in defence and passed too early. Steward didn’t have to break his stride and simply moved on to pressure Telea. Never scanned the easier option of passing to the two supporting players on the inside. Beauden Barrett showed how it is done when he put Telea in for his try. Another point from the game is that the rush defence is hard to maintain as the number of phases increases. From scrums the defensive line only contains backs who all have roughly the same pace. Once forwards are involved, the defence has players with variable speeds often leading to a jagged line. It also tends to lose pace overall giving the attack more time and space. Beauden Barrett’s break to set up Telea’s try came because Baxter went in to tackle McKenzie and Steward went out to cover Telea. Barrett has a massive hole to run through, then commits Steward by passing as late as possible and Telea scores untouched. Another comment I would make is that Ben Earl is a good player and generally an excellent defender but he made three significant misses in the series, two of which led to All Black tries. Got stepped by Perofeta in Dunedin for Savea’s try, missed McKenzie in Auckland leading to what should have been a certain try being set up by Perofeta and was one of the tacklers who couldn’t stop Savea in the leadup to Telea’s first try. Perhaps he should contact Owen Farrell to pick up a few tips from ‘tackle school’.

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