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Club Rugby

Cockerill's loyalty remains to club before country

Leicester 20 Ulster 9

For a Premiership-winning coach, Richard Cockerill is not on many wishlists for the vacant England role. Cockerill acknowledged on Saturday that he was not yet ready for such a lofty position and that, in any case, he had a job to do with Leicester.

But the former hooker, who played under a World Cup-winning coach in Bob Dwyer, drew an instructive parallel between his experiences with his club and those of Martin Johnson with England. Where Cockerill could rely on the support and advice of Peter Wheeler, his chief executive, Johnson had no one to whom he could turn in the England environment.

Over the weekend, Cockerill was mentioned in the same breath as Jim Mallinder (Northampton) and Toby Booth (London Irish) by Sir Clive Woodward, England's World Cup-winning coach of 2003, as one of the leading English contenders to step up from the Premiership. Not that any coach, either home-grown or from overseas, is likely to put his hand up until he knows how the chain of command above him at Twickenham would work.

"I have a lot to learn still, I'm slowly getting better at it," Cockerill, 40, said after Leicester made their way to the top of Pool Four of the Heineken Cup by beating Ulster at Welford Road. "I don't want to be linked with jobs away from here. The club has been very good to me, they have looked after me as a player and as a coach."

Even though Leicester are near the foot of the Premiership, Cockerill said there is no pressure from his employers: "There has been more pressure from me on myself," he said. "It's important I show loyalty – it's something I talk about with the players a lot of the time – and that there's no ambiguity.

"I don't mind who becomes [England] coach, the best qualified person, with the best ideas, someone the Premiership clubs can work with. I'm still young, I'm happy here."

Leicester's bench made a difference in the first half of a night dominated by kicking. Ian Humphreys kicked three penalty goals from four on his return to his old club but Toby Flood landed five from six and laid on the grub-kick from which Matt Smith scored the only try.

Leicester: Try Smith; Penalties Flood 5. Ulster: Penalties Humphreys 3.

Leicester G Murphy (capt); H Agulla, M Smith, A Forsyth (N Morris, 17), A Tuilagi; T Flood, S Harrison (B Youngs, 58); M Ayerza (B Stankovich, 75), G Chuter, D Cole (M Castrogiovanni, 58), L Deacon, G Parling (G Skivington, 51), T Croft (S Mafi, 74), J Salvi, T Waldrom.

Ulster S Danielli (A D'Arcy, 69); A Trimble, D Cave, N Spence, C Gilroy; I Humphreys (P Jackson, 74), P Marshall; T Court, R Best, D Fitzpatrick (A Macklin, 69), J Muller (capt), D Tuohy, S Ferris, C Henry, P Wannenburg.

Referee R Poite (France).