EDINBURGH Rugby’s high-flying players won’t be the only ones grateful for the influence of head coach Richard Cockerill when they line up against Benetton Treviso in the PRO14 today.

This season, the former England hooker has led the side to their first Champions Cup quarter-final in seven years, but Benetton prop and former Edinburgh schoolboy Tiziano Pasquali is another man who owes the coach a debt of gratitude.

The Italy international left Rome to join Merchiston Castle School aged 15 in 2010 on a rugby scholarship, but within a year of landing in Scotland he had caught the eye of Cockerill’s scouts at Leicester Tigers and accepted an offer to join the Premiership club’s academy.

“I was very sad to leave the school, but if I think in a professional way for my life, to get better and improve, I preferred to go down to Leicester and challenge myself more with rugby,” Pasquali said. “I enjoyed my time in Scotland, if I look back I would do everything the same. It was one of my best years because it was totally different.

“It was very hard for me to leave Rome and my friends, so I was struggling at first, but thanks to rugby I met a lot of friends and this helped me get through leaving my family in Rome.”

After two years in the Tigers academy, Cockerill promoted Pasquali to the first team where he competed for a place in the front row with established international stars like Tom Youngs, Dan Cole and Marcos Ayerza.

He eventually left the club after five years in 2016 to return to his home country with Treviso, but the prop says he carries Cockerill’s lessons with him to this day.

“What I really took from him was the mental toughness,” he said. “When you’re tired you switch off the brain, but you have to keep it switched on and keep working because if the brain is switched on the body will follow. This is one of the things that’s stayed with me when I train here.”

Benetton are flying high in the PRO14 this season, occupying second spot in Conference B, four points ahead of Edinburgh in fourth.

The Italians have been something of a surprise package but Pasquali, who will start on the bench at the Stadio Monigo this afternoon, revealed that securing a play-off place has been the goal all along.

“In pre-season we decided to put down some objectives,” the prop said. “We’re working a lot on our culture in Treviso, because before there was none.

“Of course, it’s thanks to the coaches and the staff at the club, but as players we set the goal to reach the play-off, because from last season we could see that there was a lot of improvement and that the little details must be done better.

“Our mentality has made a massive difference this year, we’ve been working a lot on the mindset with our mental coach. We knew the potential was there and had the confidence that we’re a good side and can play against big teams.”