As Richard Cockerill yesterday promised to go to the grave fighting for the rights of his teams the Edinburgh head coach offered what amounted to a treatise on the difficulty of the role of match officials in his sport

Rugby union’s unique selling point has always been the nature of the contest for possession in its various elements – scrum, lineout, tackle, ruck, maul and re-start – requiring players to repeatedly push to an beyond the limits of its laws.

That leaves referees constantly having to make judgement calls between offences in terms of which have been worse or have unfairly affected the outcome and, in Cockerill’s view, means they are favouring the team sthey expect to win matches.

While he acknowledged that has always tended to be so and, implicitly, that Edinburgh are a long way from being entitled to be viewed as favourites in many matches, he insisted that he was entitled to fight for their right to even-handed treatment.

“There’s nothing wrong with asking that and if there is, then I’ll just keep saying it until they shoot me,” said Cockerill.

“It’s the only time I’ll be quiet, if I’m dead. It’s not a problem for me. That’s my job - to make sure that this team gets as fair a crack at the job as the next team.”

Which is fair enough and he has had what he described as ‘private’ dialogue with the Pro14’s referees chief about it. However, funnily enough, the former England hooker admitted that he did not think quite the same way when he was playing for and coaching the biggest clubs in Europe.

“It’s always better when you’re the person getting the benefit,” he acknowledged.

“It happens both ways - I’ve had situations at Leicester and Toulon where referees come to the home ground and referee differently because they don’t want to seem to be intimidated by the stadium. It depends which side you’re fighting for. My agenda is Edinburgh. I’m not going to be a coach who says ‘That’s just the way it is, so let’s accept it’. I’m going to stand my corner for my team and I think there’s a fair argument to discuss.”

The reality is that a man who had a reputation for being pretty mouthy as a player remains an aggressive competitor who will do whatever he can to gain a competitive advantage, or at least minimise any disadvantage for his team, whatever their standing.

After a promising start which saw them win on the road then at home on his first two games in charge, he has had confirmation of the task facing him in the past three weekends in terms of what he and his players have to do better, noting that: “We’ve got to make sure that we keep developing what we’re doing. I’m never going to blame the referee for the result. We’ve got to be good enough to control that ourselves.”

While Cockerill stated before the season that wins rather than performances were his priority he is also willing to admit that in terms of expectations the only major slip up so far has been when blowing a 14 point lead at home to Treviso since few teams can expect to win at the Scarlets or Leinster.

He knows that the more they can get themselves into those positions the more likely they are to be dependent on referees to see things their way, but what they need to focus on first is getting themselves there.

“If you’re 10 per cent off you can make it an arm wrestle and once you’re in an arm wrestle anyone can win,” the coach noted. “That’s what happened against Treviso… we were on top, we switched off and it became an arm wrestle. Then you’re relying on lady luck with refereeing decisions and the bounce of the ball and we didn’t get it. The key parts in the last two weeks are that we’ve shown we can stay in the battle against good teams. Now we need to play with that intensity and intent, with and without the ball, when it’s a team we should beat.”