It was last season’s final round of regular matches and I was in the Murrayfield press box where Edinburgh Rugby were crushing the Cardiff Blues into the turf. The capital club had scored three first-half tries to just one in reply from the visitors and enjoyed a 17-7 lead at the break.
As I made for the half-time coffee and pies, I turned to a colleague and mused out loud that even Edinburgh surely couldn’t stuff it up from here.
“Would you care to bet?” came the response.
Sure enough, the Blues scored two tries after the break while Edinburgh failed to add to their half-time tally, the match ending 17-21 in the Blues’ favour. If good teams find a way to win, Edinburgh are the diametric opposites, they discover ever more inventive ways to lose.
That match was a microcosm of the club’s season. An excellent first half saw them sitting in third place in the Pro12 after back-to-back wins over Glasgow in the 1872 Cup. The second half of the season was rather less impressive ending in that loss to the Blues and a ninth-place finish. Edinburgh’s loss on Friday was Connacht’s first win of the season which only underlines the problems facing new coach Duncan Hodge.
Edinburgh are a tough club to coach, something that Todd Blackadder conceded more than a decade ago when he had the reins. Of all the club’s very many coaches over the years – ten in the time Glasgow have had two – only one has enjoyed anything approaching league success, Andy Robinson taking them to fourth and then second, their high water mark in 2008-9.
The question is why are Edinburgh amongst rugby’s also-rans? And the answer surely revolves around identity, or rather a lack of it. Glasgow are the Whatever-It-Takes Warriors filling Scotstoun with ease. Edinburgh are, err, the other lot.
Training in Murrayfield’s shadow, literally and metaphorically speaking, and then playing on the big pitch in front of a smattering of die-hard fans makes it almost impossible for Edinburgh to forge their own identity, unique and separate from their SRU landlords.
Seven things that Edinburgh must do to succeed:
1 Move away from Murrayfield
This has already been effected with the plan to play matches at Myreside from January but that is only half a solution. Edinburgh must find a new permanent training ground, be it at Heriot Watt’s campus or Edinburgh University’s well endowed site at Peffermill. There will be a cost but the benefits in terms of making a clean break from the SRU will be huge.
2 Be positive on the pitch
The game has changed out of all recognition from RWC’07 when almost everyone aped the South African “kick, chase and pressurise” tactics which won the Springboks the title, if only just. There is nothing wrong with the tactic if it works, as Saracens will attest, but you need a big budget to buy a giant, grizzled pack of enforcer forwards and Edinburgh don’t have one. With due deference to defence, let’s see some attacking intent from a club that used to be famous for it.
3 Be positive off the pitch
All too often Edinburgh are talked down and not just by the press. This is not a bad team, it is a decent team who are desperately low on confidence. The players need to know that the coach has faith in their ability and Duncan Hodge must talk them up at every opportunity. This is the team that has beaten Glasgow in three of their last four matches and got to the Challenge Cup final in 2015. The club whose front five forwards are the envy of the league and who boast several hugely talented young backs. Go to work fellas.
4 Find a STAND-0FF who isn’t Welsh
There are only two pro teams so Edinburgh can’t afford to have a key position filled by Jason Tovey who, were he Scottish, would have a stack of caps to his name. The answer lies in Blair Kinghorn who played all his youth rugby at ten before Alan Solomons moved him to 15. When the Under20’s needed him at ten last season, Kinghorn was terrible because he was out of practice. Scotland have cover for Stuart Hogg, in the form of Ruaridh Jackson, Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour. They have precious little backup for Finn Russell at stand-off let alone competition.
5 Integrate the young players gradually
Solomons threw a host of them into a Challenge Cup match against London Irish last season and Edinburgh ended up on the wrong end of a 38-6 savaging. Hodge needs to get the youngsters involved by drip feeding them into an experienced match-day squad to help facilitate that daunting step from the fringes of the squad to the starting XV.
6 Stop signing ordinary foreigners
Edinburgh were inundated with too many players who were not bad, they just weren’t terribly good. The club is better off hiring a young Scot rather than a world-weary foreign mercenary unless they are going to make a genuine and lasting impact at the club. So Cornell du Preez good, Andries Strauss somewhat less so and let’s not even mention Carl Bezuidenhout and a host of others that slipped into Edinburgh before being ushered out the back door in the dead of night. It’s not about too many foreign players, it’s about too many ordinary players. Ignore the end-of-season sales and empty the bank when a genuine game changer becomes available.
7 Set up an independent board to run the club
It’s too obvious not to.