RICHARD Cockerill has identified a lack of leadership within Scottish rugby as one of the key problems confronting him as he tries to halt Edinburgh’s losing run.

The head coach has seen his side lose their last four games, and in at least two - Ulster in the PRO14 semi-final and Ospreys in last weekend’s opening game of the new season - their failure to fight back from adversity has been an all-too-evident issue. The absence of some senior players did not help against the Welsh team, but the Edinburgh line-up nonetheless still included some of the most experienced men in the squad.

“Ospreys played well: their experience at 9 and 10 and their leadership with Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric - they controlled the game,” Cockerill said. “We weren’t good enough leadership-wise to find a way out of that.

“There’s not many natural leaders within the Scottish game, particularly. I don’t think lack of leadership is necessarily just an Edinburgh issue.

“My experience of working here with other teams is that the Scottish guys are quieter and a bit more subdued. They’re good guys and they work hard but they’re not natural, overt personalities or leaders.

“So we’ve got to keep working on that. They’ve got the knowledge. We’ve just got to get it out of them in the key bits to manage certain situations.”

Insisting that he was attempting an honest assessment of the situation rather than seeking to condemn, Cockerill went on to examine an issue which has been aired frequently in the professional era: the claim that there is a culture of obedience within Scottish rugby which militates against the growth of leadership. “I’m not sure I’d call it damning,” he continued. “I wasn’t trying to be derogatory towards my players, particularly.

“It has been touched on before. We have a lot of nice guys that are good human beings, but when they get on the field they need to know it’s a different scenario. We need to be a little more cussed and a little bit more bloody-minded and we need to be a bit nastier about how we go about our business. We need as many of those people as we can.

“I like guys with opinion. No problem. Most of my guys don’t listen to me most of the time, as you know with the team’s disciplinary record. So they’re not obedient to me.”

Edinburgh’s discipline and leadership will both need to be spot-on on Saturday evening when they visit Munster, who suspended training yesterday after an unnamed senior player returned a positive Covid test and six others were identified as possible close contacts. All seven are self-isolating, and the Irish province are not expected to resume training until tomorrow, but as things stand the match will go ahead and Munster, who enjoyed a morale-boosting win at Scarlets last week, will be strong favourites to win.

At least Cockerill will be able to bring back Jamie Ritchie this weekend after the back-row forward missed out on the Ospreys match because of Covid protocols, and winger Duhan van der Merwe and scrum-half Nic Groom will also return. But the coach’s back-row options remain limited, with Bill Mata out for another month or more as he recovers from ankle surgery, and Magnus Bradbury and Luke Crosbie joining the Fijian on the sidelines after being injured last Saturday.

“Magnus has a head knock and won’t have gone through the protocols to be available,” Cockerill added. “Luke Crosbie has a Grade Two hamstring and he will be out for four to six weeks. Jamie Ritchie is Covid-free and available to play.”

Groom’s return is timely, as Charlie Shiel is out with a Grade One hamstring injury and joins the concussed Henry Pyrgos in missing out. Dan Nutton, who came off the bench for Shiel four days ago to make just his second appearance, is likely to be the replacement scrum-half at Thomond Park.

Full-back Blair Kinghorn will also miss out after sustaining a stinger to his head and neck in training, but loosehead prop Rory Sutherland trained yesterday and is again available. “There are some rays of sunshine among the dark clouds over Murrayfield,” Cockerill declared defiantly after going through his squad’s injury news.