Gloucester Rugby: Davies hails Matt Cox as Hazell heir apparent
NATURAL forager Matt Cox has all the attributes to become Gloucester's long-term openside flanker successor to Andy Hazell, believes Nigel Davies.
Cherry and Whites boss Davies has told Cox he wants him to flourish at seven for the Kingsholm club – and has backed him to seize his chance in the coming weeks.
Redditch-born Cox was recruited from home club Worcester two years ago, with Gloucester initially earmarking him as a long-term openside.
But since then he has operated just as much at blindside and number eight.
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Former Llanelli Scarlets boss Davies has wasted little time in asking Cox to switch to openside more regularly.
And now the Kingsholm club's rugby director believes there will be opportunities for Cox in that role in the wake of stalwart Hazell's red card at Mont de Marsan.
Gloucester-born Hazell faces an ERC disciplinary hearing on October 26, where he will receive sanction for his flurry of punches at Stade Guy Boniface last week.
Hazell is unable to take the field in the period leading up to that hearing, and the expectation is that the 34-year-old will be slapped with a ban.
Backing Cox to step forward in the interim, Davies explained: "I think it is probably time for Coxy to nail down into one specific role now.
"He's played more of his rugby at six overall, but I think he's got the makings of an excellent openside.
"From what I've seen so far he's more suited to seven, he's quick, very aggressive over the ball, has good footwork in attack and he's probably not as heavy as your top-end eights and sixes.
"So for me he fits the seven position very well."
Admitting Gloucester's coaching staff have been working closely with Cox on the finer points of openside play, Davies said he is improving all the time in appreciating the intricacies of one of the game's most specialised roles.
He continued: "Coxy's brilliant: he'll do anything for you, anything you ask, but I think we've got to give him a bit of freedom in that seven role, and see what he can do.
"There's a rhythm in any game and the good sevens get into that rhythm and they pick their moments and are very effective in them.
"Sometimes Coxy is so committed, he's so desperate to win and do well that he can almost negate his contribution by trying to do everything.
"So we're just working on that and having a feel for the game, and for the rhythm of the game, and when he does that and gets a run of games, I'm sure we'll see the best of him.
"I said to him in pre-season that I saw him more as a seven, but we haven't really had too much opportunity to play him there so far.
"But I'm sure he'll get some opportunities now, that's for sure.
"Someone like Hazey offers great balance to our back-row: it allows us to carry to predominantly ball-carrying players in there as well, because of his work-rate, ground work and decision-making.
"So those are the sorts of things we're focusing on with Coxy at the moment."
Evergreen Hazell made his Gloucester debut all the way back in the 1997-98 season, but remains in vintage form.
He cannot go on forever though, and Gloucester clearly need to start ushering in a long-term replacement.
Cox has the first crack at that ball-stealing 'jackal' role then, but Davies conceded he has cast an admiring eye on Cornish Pirates' seven Phil Burgess.
The former Harlequins and Loughborough University flanker is tearing up the Championship, no doubt winning glances from a host of Premiership clubs.
Rob Cook's one-game loan back to former club Pirates earlier this term indicates the strength of relations between the two outfits.
But even if that gives Gloucester an edge, Davies said he does not expect to make any swoop this term, given the salary cap.
While Davies is already making preparations for next term's squad, he reiterated that retention must come before recruitment – and he hinted Burgess is not the only openside on his radar.
He added: "There's a couple of players within our current system that could possibly step up to the seven role in the long-term.
"Burgess is a very good player, I've seen footage of games he's played and he's an exceptional player.
"But there's a number of things we're looking at at the moment, and based on that we'll make some decisions for next year.
"Recruitment for right now is difficult because of the salary cap, but obviously we're certainly looking very closely at next season already.
"We've got a very strong squad at the moment, and I'm delighted with the talent available to us and that's emerging all the time."