Richard Cockerill: 'My behaviour has been less than ideal'

Leicester's director of rugby tells Hugh Godwin about runs-ins with refs, trying to control his temper and Leicester's magic ingredient

Once upon a time in his playing days, Richard Cockerill was ejected from the England squad by Clive Woodward, never to return; guilty by implication of being among those described by Woodward as "energy sappers". Now Cockerill is Leicester Tigers' director of rugby, halfway through a season that could deliver his and the club's third straight Premiership title. He admits he has had to battle to control his temper and turn his players' lights on, not off. And Woodward? He is on a Tigers board beaming at Cockerill's success.

Cockerill will be in his usual seat in the Welford Road grandstand this afternoon when Perpignan visit Leicester in a Heineken Cup pool match. He may slap the desk in front of him, or shout "knock on!" or "come on!" The press sitting nearby may smile or raise an eyebrow. "Typical Cockers," they may say. On occasions he has gone too far, and this time last year was serving a matchday ban for lambasting referees. Superficially, he is unchanged from the hooker who snarlingly confronted Norm Hewitt during an All Black haka in 1997 (right), or lambasted Woodward's methods in an autobiography In Your Face: A Rugby Odyssey. So is that player of old the same as the coach or – in the rugby jargon – the "DOR?"

"I've always tried to be me, and I'm quite pugnacious and quite competitive and I'll do whatever it takes to win, in a sporting context," Cockerill says. "Sometimes my behaviour has been less than ideal. You go away from a game thinking 'Christ, I've got to just calm down a bit, that was ridiculous'. And I've tempered it as time has gone on. I realised it wasn't about getting me ready for the game, it was about getting the players ready."

He says he would be a Leicester supporter if he wasn't working there. Born in Rugby, he manned the Tigers' front row (aka the ABC Club) for a decade before a couple of twilight years at Montferrand. Yet there was no grand plan to come back; no brilliantly conceived CV or coaching pathway.

In 2004, as "third or fourth choice behind people who didn't want to do it", he became the assistant coach to John Wells, taking the forwards while Pat Howard did the backs. Onwards through Howard's stint as head coach, and the subsequent comings and premature goings of Marcelo Loffreda, an Argentinian, and Heyneke Meyer, a South African, Cockerill oscillated between learner and firefighter. He was appointed head coach in April 2009, a month before Leicester won the Premiership by defeating London Irish. They retained the title last May in a classic final against Brendan Venter's Saracens.

"I want us to be good," says Cockerill. "It's not about money or being famous or what car you drive. It has always been about the kudos of being the best." He talks about needing to pay the bills and the mortgage, but he doesn't envy football managers for "the amount of flak they get". He will not critique Venter's mickey-taking television interview last weekend, or criticise Northampton's prop Euan Murray for refusing to play on Sundays. "My mother-in-law's a vicar," Cockerill says. "I'm very simple. The players need to turn up on time, wearing their kit and ready to play."

What is clear is that while Cockerill insists "circumstances, not ambition" brought him to this point, he is a good fit for the Leicester continuum: strong-scrummaging, hard-eyed forwards, good talent scouts and regular trophies attracting those who wish to win trophies. With their £18.5million turnover, they are in a minority of clubs who would like the salary cap increased. "I don't want more salary cap to buy rock stars," says Cockerill. "I want to protect the guys we've got." Bath's wooing of the flanker Tom Croft – one of nine England players at Welford Road – was rebuffed by a recently extended contract. As for France's ever-growing spending power, Cockerill's argument on why his stars should stay put could stand as a Tigers mission statement. He feels it deeply, madly, truly. Perpignan and their confrères can look away now. "People can try and copy us, to try and buy our DNA," Cockerill says. "You cannot nick what we have, because you have to be in our environment to have it. I know the systems in France up to a point, because I've played there, and they're not as good for your rugby-playing development. Certainly for the Anglo-Saxons the best place to be is in England because it is more professional and it suits the mentality. Certainly the Leicester players and the Leicester club epitomise that.

"Foreign players have come here and become world renowned on the back of being in our environment. Julien Dupuy came here as Biarritz's third-choice scrum-half and went away as France's first choice. Now he's not here, he's not as good a player. Benjamin Kayser came here as a second-choice player at Stade Français and went away as first choice for France. Now he's not here and has dropped off that pecking order. Whether the French bubble will burst, we'll see. Brive have some issues. Stade Français are not as strong in the marketplace as they were. I don't know how wealthy the Toulon owner is, or the Racing Métro owner is. Will they get bored in a couple of years? Leicester will be here in another hundred years. Not many clubs would have survived the coaches' upheaval we've had and still got to finals."

His encouragement to his players to be open with their opinions – "if they want to call me an arse, I'd rather they call me an arse to my face than sit at home thinking about it" – stems from his frustration at how former coaches including Dean Richards handled selection. "We normally name the team on Tuesday and I call it 'shit day Tuesday'," says Cockerill. "You're going round saying 'can I have a word?'" Socialising is different. Last Thursday, it was his 40th birthday. "A few drinks in the pub" was the plan. The players weren't invited.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...