Cockerill looks ahead to Ospreys
With this weekend’s final Principal & Prosper Pre-Season friendly against Ospreys fast approaching, Head Coach Richard Cockerill confirmed that new signings Jamie Bhatti and Ruan Steenkamp are set to be involved, while Lewis Carmichael will return from injury following several months on the sidelines.
The capital side face off against their Guinness PRO14 rivals at BT Murrayfield this Saturday (kick-off 3pm) looking for a second straight win following the 57-21 win over London Scottish two weeks ago.
And the match will once again give Cockerill and his coaching team the best possible chance to evaluate the wider playing squad, with several Academy and Sevens players set to once again feature.
“Jamie Bhatti will be involved. Ruan Steenkamp will be involved. Mesu Kunavula is still recovering from a shoulder operation and he should be fit, but isn’t ready to play yet.
“With Eroni Sau, we are still waiting on his visa. It is just time. He has a wife and three kids, so it takes a bit of processing. For one it is bad enough, but for five it takes a bit of time.
“Willemse will probably be fit for the second week of the season. He injured himself against Scotland in a trial match. Duhan van der Merwe has recovered from tonsillitis and he and Lewis Carmichael will both play at the weekend.
“Lewis had a knee operation just before Christmas. He has recovered from that, has been training hard and looking good.”
With just over two weeks until the capital side’s first Guinness PRO14 match against Zebre at BT Murrayfield, keeping a healthy squad remains at the top of the coaching staff’s priorities.
And with 12 players on Rugby World Cup duty, Cockerill is keen for the club’s younger players to make the step-up in the early stages of the season.
“We’ve not got the biggest squad and we’ve not got the biggest budget, so to lose a whole forward pack and some is always going to be difficult for us.
“However, we’ve got plenty of good lads left over and we’ve been working hard to start the season with a very competitive team that is hopefully going to pick up as many points as it can.
“I don’t think any team can honestly say they know exactly what it’s going to look like, because some teams aren’t missing many, some teams are missing a dozen or so - or more.
“Some parts of it are luck of the draw on the fixture list, and post-World Cup who’s resting, who has to rest, all those things. So, it’s going to be an interesting dynamic and we’ve just got to manage and deal with what’s in front of us week to week.”
"We’ve got plenty of good lads left over and we’ve been working hard to start the season with a very competitive team that is hopefully going to pick up as many points as it can." Richard Cockerill
This weekend’s encounter against Ospreys marks the end of pre-season as the club looks toward the opening Guinness PRO14 encounter against Zebre on September 28th.
And Cockerill believes the friendly will leave his squad in a good place - both physically and mentally - heading into the new league campaign.
“We played half a game against Scotland. We had Georgia in with us last Wednesday and we had London Scottish up before the Ospreys match this weekend.
“The season is long enough without having too many friendlies and we have some good players missing and we don’t want to expose our squad to too many games and injuries.
“I think we’ll be all right - Scottish, then a week of no games, then the Ospreys and then we hit Zebre. The games will soon come thick and fast.”