Cockerill took the reins of the Top 14 club, ensuring a top-six finish to set up a play-off quarter-final against Castres on Friday.
By anyone’s reckoning, Richard Cockerill has enjoyed a whirlwind six months: sacked by Leicester, hired by a Toulon side he once dubbed “mercenaries” and named as Edinburgh coach for next season.
The 46-year-old former England hooker was brought into Toulon by Mike Ford, just four days after being forced out of Leicester.
When Ford himself was ousted by Toulon’s president Mourad Boudjellal in April, Cockerill took the reins of the Top 14 club, ensuring a top-six finish to set up a play-off quarter-final against Castres on Friday.
“It’s been a little bit difficult, a good test of character. I’ve been here for four months and have one month to go,” the straight-talking Cockerill, who spent two seasons as a player with Clermont in 2002-4, told AFP in an interview.
“So far, it’s been three wins from three. Pau at the weekend and hopefully it’ll be four from four and a home semi-final.”
Cockerill played down his “fireman’s” role, saying Ford had not had such an “easy run-in” and explaining that players often used feelings of guilt to react positively after a coach’s sacking.
But there can be no denying that the ex-hooker commands respect with what he calls his “direct and simple” coaching style. “I like to have authority in the team,” he said.
No shrinking violets
That the Toulon squad is an expensively assembled one of world rugby superstars means it’s no place for a shrinking violet.
“We have very good players, it makes it easy for the coach,” Cockerill told AFP.
“If you talk commonsense and use their knowledge as well… then it’s pretty straightforward.”
Cockerill added: “There’s a lot of experience. It’s different when you coach a team like Leicester and you know the players very well.
“When you come to Toulon and in the first meeting there were (Bryan) Habana, (Ma’a) Nonu, (Matt) Giteau, (Mamuka) Gorgodze, (Romain) Taofifenua, (Leigh) Halfpenny — guys you’ve never coached before, you have to make sure you know what you’re doing!”
Cockerill said his approach was simply to engender a winning team.
“The first objective is to win and then you try to win with style. You have to do the simple things well,” he said, putting previous bouts of “French-bashing” down to simple gamesmanship.
“As an Englishman, when I first arrived here, everybody said ‘weren’t you the coach who said we were all mercenaries?’ Yes, that was me! Maybe that’s a lesson for me as a coach.
“Leicester and Toulon are very different… but once you get on the pitch, all players are pretty much the same: they want to work hard, they want good coaching, they want to be organised and they want to win.”
EnterGhana.com | Credit: Pulse.com.gh | Richard Cockerill: 'Direct' coach happy with Toulon 'mercenaries'