He famously had to wear a ‘see-you-Jimmy hat’ in training after Scotland’s Calcutta Cup win in 2018, the result of a lost bet. He laughs when reminded of it, and says it was a painful experience, but it didn’t put him off. Cockerill still lives in the Scottish capital, commuting south to carry out his England duties as and when required. His time at the helm at Edinburgh means he has a wealth of knowledge about the Scotland team, in particular the six players from his former club in the starting XV. He’s particularly pleased for Luke Crosbie who will make his Six Nations bow at Twickenham on Saturday after a string of outstanding performances at club level. Cockerill gave the former Livingston and Currie flanker his Edinburgh debut in 2017 and has watched his progress from afar.
“I’m not surprised how he’s played, I’m actually really pleased for him because of all the Scottish back-rows I’ve watched I think he’s the form one of the moment,” said Cockerill. “He deserves his spot. I know he’s not the normal well-to-do Edinburgh boy is he, he’s a tough bugger and he carries hard and tackles hard. Having Saracens play Edinburgh recently, it’s given an insight for our group how good Luke’s being playing. He’s been outstanding and I’ve got a lot of time for him.”
Another of Cockerill’s old boys, Jamie Ritchie, will captain Scotland at Twickenham, a natural progression according to the coach. “Jamie is a great player,” he said. “He’s a natural leader. He has been for Edinburgh and he was at school-boy level. That’s clearly followed him to the national team. He’s playing great rugby, he’s on top form, and he understands the game well. He’s a guy they can build that team around.”
Cockerill is the sole survivor from the Eddie Jones regime in the England coaching set-up but has had his job redefined. The sacking of Jones and the appointment of Steve Borthwick has seen Cockerill switch from forwards to scrum coach. His long-term future may be uncertain but it’s a role he has taken on with typical relish as he seeks to drive up standards. “Our scrum hasn’t been good enough and that’s something we need to improve, both in terms of the relationships with the referee and how we actually go about our business,” he said. “We know that’s going to be a big test because Schoeman, Turner and Nel are a quality front row. Our set-piece parts have to be a lot better if we’re going to compete at this level and win games at this level.”
He refuted the notion that Nel, at 36, could be some sort of weak link. The tighthead is making a rare start as Zander Fagerson recovers from a torn hamstring. “I know WP Nel pretty well, he’s a pretty sharp scrummager so we know what he’s going to bring. He is a quality scrummager. We treat him with a huge amount of respect.”
When Scotland beat England at Twickenham during the bad old day of the pandemic in 2021 the stadium was empty. It will be a riot of sound and fury on Saturday and Cockerill can't wait. “I can assure you that, tomorrow, we will have enough passion to match the Scots’ passion," he said. “Then it will be down to who plays the best rugby.”