Rugby Union: Cocky Cockerill banging the drum

The most talkative hooker in the southern hemisphere, Sean Fitzpatrick, may be out of tomorrow's England-New Zealand Test at Old Trafford, but his European counterpart, Richard Cockerill, is very much in business. Chris Hewett catches the Leicester larynx in full flow.

"I can't wait for the first scrum," Richard Cockerill said yesterday. Given the fact that Leicester's irrepressibly vocal hooker was preparing to lock horns with an All Black pack of vintage quality, it was difficult to tell whether his unequivocal statement of self-belief was born of masochism, hyperbole or a gross delusion of grandeur.

Actually, Cockerill was deadly serious. It is probably possible to count on the fingers of one hand those who honestly believe England can beat the All Blacks in tomorrow's opening conflict in Manchester, but the 26- year-old antiques restorer is very definitely one of that select band of optimists. "We're not going to Old Trafford to be polite to these people," he insisted. "They have some great players, but they're not supermen. I respect the things they've achieved, but they won't see much respect from us once the game begins.''

"Cocky" by nickname, then, and cocky by nature. For all those who believe the proud and bullish Midlands mouthpiece to be a blast of hot air and nothing more, England will benefit from his unique brand of up and-at- 'em confidence. The mood in the camp had seemed flat in the wake of last weekend's low-quality draw with the Wallabies until Cockerill started banging the drum yesterday.

"So what if people give us no chance?" he asked. "I couldn't care less what other people think. Let 'em write us off. I'll go out there and play my normal game, which is precisely how I've got myself into this team. It's a big opportunity for me, as it is for everyone else picked for the match, and I have no doubts over my ability to play a part in what I believe will be a good England performance. I intend to take it to the All Blacks at the first scrum, the last scrum and every scrum in between.''

Insofar as Darren Garforth, the new tight-head prop who partners Cockerill in the Leicester front row, managed to get a word in edgeways, there was a united stand amongst the front-rowers

"We're going out there to compete and I'm looking to put myself in the All Blacks' faces all game," Garforth said.

England have invested a substantial number of man-hours in stabilising their creaking scrummage and, while Garforth accepts that set-piece duties were far from the strongest aspect of his game until he decided to get down to brass tacks a couple of seasons back, both Leicester men believe they can rise to the challenge of Craig Dowd, Norm Hewitt and Olo Brown.

The visitors confirmed that Josh Kronfeld, the "black shadow" from Otago who was magnificent in Tuesday's 59-22 victory over the Emerging side, would fill the vacant open-side flanker's berth on Saturday. Kronfeld confirmed his quick recovery from minor rib trouble during training yesterday and replaces Andrew Blowers.

"I was frustrated at being left out of the side that played Ireland last weekend, but it's an attitude builder," Kronfeld said. "Andrew deserved his place in that one, but the selectors asked me to produce a little bit more and they seem to be happy with my response." When England recall the stunning try Kronfeld scored against them during the World Cup rout in Cape Town some two and a half years ago, they are not likely to share in that happiness.

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