He may be a Heriot’s man to the core but Andy Irvine said yesterday that he felt home from home as he surveyed the scene at Myreside ahead of Edinburgh’s move to the George Watson’s College ground on Friday.
The legendary former Scotland and Lions full-back now serves as chairman of Edinburgh Rugby and is excited about what he hopes will be a dawn of a new era for the club. After years spent rattling around the cavernous national stadium, this new partnership with the independent school, which owns the ground, will see Edinburgh play six home games in an initial six-month trial with a view to making it their permanent home following a review process in the summer.
Temporary seating has taken the capacity to an initial 5,500 and the hope is that it will be as close to full as possible on Friday when they face Timisoara Saracens in the European Challenge Cup, knowing that a bonus-point win will see them top Pool 5 and seal a home quarter-final.
The new stands behind each goal have transformed the old stadium from the days when Irvine graced its turf in club battles against Watsonians and also for the Edinburgh district. “I played here for Edinburgh against the All Blacks in 1979 in front of a big crowd of about 6-8,000,” he said.
“I played a lot of inter-district games against Glasgow, and, to be honest, it was probably the best atmosphere of all the Edinburgh grounds because it was enclosed.
“It is a great pitch. In saying that most of the school grounds were always good pitches – Stew-Mel, Goldenacre. This is a bit more protected with the trees and surroundings so, from a full-back’s point of view, it was always easier to play here.”
Any home European quarter-final would be at BT Murrayfield to accommodate as big a crowd as possible but Irvine said the club’s win at the weekend has set the week up perfectly and called for a carnival atmosphere on Friday.
“The chances of winning the first game is pretty good, especially coming off a tremendous win over Harlequins,” said Irvine. “I just hope the players get the support from the public and are rewarded for their efforts as that was a hell of a win on Saturday.
“At the moment we have just over 3,000 tickets sold. This is innovative from Edinburgh’s point of view. Although Edinburgh have played here before, they have never had the stands or the infrastructure. It will be great.”
After too long spent in the shadow of Glasgow’s exploits in reaching Pro12 finals, winning it in 2015 and now looking to push on at Europe’s top table, Irvine hopes that the Myreside move can spark the capital side towards challenging the men from the west.
“I still believe Edinburgh can outdo Glasgow on the field and off the field as well,” said the 65-year-old. “You have to give Glasgow credit for having the vision to go to a small ground.
“In fairness,Edinburgh crowds tend not to be that hostile. It would be nice if they were a wee bit more vocal. Glasgow are better in that sense and have done really well from going from Firhill to Scotstoun. This is going to be better than Scotstoun. The fans will be much closer.”
Irvine remains involved with the Lions as a board member and is hopeful that the current owner of the Scotland No 15 jersey will swap dark blue for red in the summer.
“If the team was picked tomorrow, Stuart Hogg wouldn’t only be in the squad, he’d be in a Test position,” said Irvine. “He’s in a very competitive position, because Rob Kearney and Leigh Halfpenny are still playing. I personally believe he’s leapfrogged them.”