LESS than 11 months after pen was put to paper on a new contract which was supposed to keep Richard Cockerill at Edinburgh until the summer of 2023, it was announced this morning that head coach and club had parted company by mutual consent with immediate effect.  

The capital outfit’s initial pre-season preparations for the 2021-22 campaign will now be led by assistant/defence coach Calum MacRae and Head of Strength and Conditioning Nick Lumley.  

Meanwhile, former Edinburgh scrum-half Mike Blair, who is currently a member of the Scotland management team and was supposed to pick up some experience as head coach with the national side before Covid ruined this summer's schedule, is the most obvious candidate to take the job on a permanent basis. 

The timing of Cockerill’s departure – on the day the team returned from their summer holidays to start pre-season – might be a surprise, but the mood music around Murrayfield has been ominous for some time, with the initial gains made under the Englishman during his first three years at the club falling away again at a disturbing rate last season.

While there is no doubt that external factors related to the Covid pandemic contributed to this, the consistently flat performances of the team throughout the campaign made it hard to shake the impression that there was something fundamentally flawed in the internal chemistry at Edinburgh. 

Playing to a limited – some might call boring – forward-orientated game-plan, the capital side finished fifth in Conference B of the PRO14, ninth in the Rainbow Cup and managed just seven wins and one draw from 24 matches in all competitions across the whole of 2020-21. 

The combative former hooker has never been concerned about ruffling a few feathers. In fact, he views that as a central feature of his personality and a useful tool of his job. However, it can be exhausting and demoralising for those who have to deal with it on a day-to-day basis, and a number of former players have expressed disquiet at Cockerill’s man-management style. 

"Having had constructive conversations with Jim Mallinder, Scottish Rugby’s Director of Performance Rugby, and Mark Dodson, Scottish Rugby’s Chief Executive, post season it was agreed that we would come to an agreement where I would leave the club by mutual consent to pursue other opportunities," said the dpearting coach, in a Murrayfield-prepared statement yesterday. 

"I would like to thank everyone at Edinburgh Rugby for the hard work they have put in. It has been a rewarding four seasons for the club. 

"I would also like to thank all the supporters for everything they have done for me and the team you have been amazing. 

"I wish the staff and players all the best for the future and look forward to watching you in your new stadium." 

The Murrayfield hierarchy and the club’s fans will be hoping that a new head coach can have a reinvigorating effect ahead of a big season for the capital outfit. The team will be based for the first time in their custom-built, 7,800-capacity stadium located on the back pitches at Murrayfield, and play in the newly rebranded United Rugby Championship, which will feature four South African franchises as well as the traditional PRO14 opposition from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.  

As the sport emerges from Covid and begins to feel its way into an era destined to be dominated by eye-watering broadcast and commercial deals brokered via ruthless private equity firms, any club which hopes to survive let alone thrive will need to act decisively and quickly if they are to avoid being left behind.

They will also need to have a very clear vision of the future and a viable plan of how to get there, all of which will be built around playing attractive and successful rugby in front of decent-sized crowds. It might just be that Cockerill is an early victim of this brave new world

Whoever takes over the job at Edinburgh on a permanent basis will be working with an almost entirely inherited squad. Several leading players (including Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Blair Kinghorn, Viliame Mata and Darcy Graham) have signed contract extensions recently, while a few others (most notably current Lions Duhan van der Merwe and Rory Sutherland) are off to pastures new. Eight new signings (including Scotland cap James Lang and Scotland hopeful Ben Vellacott) have been announced for next season. 

“I would like to thank Richard for all his hard work and commitment to the club throughout his time at Edinburgh Rugby,” said Edinburgh Rugby Managing Director, Douglas Struth. “We wish him all the very best in his next challenge.”