RICHARD COCKERILL would neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of recent news reports in South Africa which state that loose-head prop Boan Venter is set to join Edinburgh on a two-and-a-half year deal in February, or rumours from England linking Harlequins and Scotland utility-back James Lang with a move to the Scottish capital ahead of next season. 

The head coach was, however, concise and to the point when asked about speculation linking Rory Sutherland to Worcester Warriors. “Rory’s under contract for another 18 months so there is nothing in it whatsoever,” he stated. 

With several leading players coming out of contract at the end of the season, speculation on potential comings and goings at Edinburgh has grown exponentially in recent weeks, but Cockerill is clearly keen to keep everything in-house until any change in personnel has been finalised. 

“We are talking to several players at the moment about next season so at this point we have nothing to report on that,” he said, when asked specifically about Lang, who played at inside-centre for Scotland during the Autumn Test window, but can also slot in at stand-off, outside-centre or full-back. 

“In the backs, we need a bit more strengthening and we need a bit more quality there so we are having a look. Ten is one of the positions we are looking at, or players that can play in that position and others. With the limited finances we have we are trying to get the best out of what we can.” 

Cockerill conceded that discussions have taken place with Venter but refused to put any meat onto the bones of last weekend’s story.  

The 23-year-old would be a like-for-like replacement for Scotland international Jamie Bhatti, who left the club to join Bath on a short-term deal for the rest of the season just before Christmas, having become frustrated by a lack of game time since his arrival from Glasgow Warriors in the summer of 2019. 

“Jamie has moved on and if there is an opportunity to get a player in that will strengthen our stocks we will look at that,” said the coach. “Boan is one of a few we have been looking at and talking to.  

“Obviously, looking forward, Rory Sutherland as well as Pierre Schoeman – who becomes Scottish qualified from next summer – will be away with Scotland for large chunks [of the season], so it is a position we are looking to strengthen.” 

Cockerill denied that there is a preoccupation at Edinburgh with recruiting cheap, ready-made players from abroad at the cost of developing homegrown talent – but added that there is a lack of options in the current system he can turn to without compromising competitiveness. 

Seven current members of the senior squad were born in South Africa, and 47 percent of the 49 players listed on the Edinburgh website were born outside of Scotland. 

“For us, it is just about getting the balance to our squad,” said Cockerill. “Moving forward, we will have two looseheads away with Scotland, a hooker, two tightheads, two locks, all our back row, and so on. 

“You have to plan with some certainty that you are going to have some players to play for you. We work on the worst-case scenario and the depth of purely Scottish qualified guys is not as deep as we would all like. 

“If you look at the positions in which we have non-SQ [Scottish Qualified] players, we also have a very strong contingent of SQ players,” he added. “At loosehead, for example, we have Sam Grahamslaw, Rory Sutherland and Pierre, who will soon become a Scotsman. If 75 per cent of our looseheads are Scottish-qualified, it’s a pretty good ratio, isn’t it?  

“We have that across all our positions. If we do have a foreign player in there, we do have SQ players in there as well. We are not replacing Scottish-qualified players, we are supplementing them. 

The fact that Schoeman only becomes qualified after completing the three-year residency requirement slightly undermines that argument, but, from Cockerill’s perspective, his number one priority is to put as successful team as possible on the pitch, and as the financial squeeze of Covid tightens he has to cut deals wherever he can get them. 

“We have to find the money, so if players leave and there is money left over we can use that to strengthen if we need to,” he explained. 

“We can have two in as long as they don’t cost more than the one we’ve got rid of. The finances haven’t changed – I’m not sure Covid-19 has got any better or whether we will have crowds in the Six Nations and all those things – so there is still lots in the air and our budget is where we are at. We are used to it now so we just crack on.”