EDINBURGH Rugby are planning to play some matches at Hibernian’s Easter Road Stadium next season, it was revealed yesterday.
Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson said he was hopeful that an agreement can be reached with Hibs to play “a couple of games” at their home ground next season.
Edinburgh currently play at 67,800-capacity BT Murrayfield Stadium yet had an average home gate for Guinness Pro12 League matches last season of just 4,845. Easter Road has just over 20,000 seats.
“You see some leaks in the press about us talking to Hibernian about Easter Road. We’re closer to that than we have been for a while. Our hope would be that we can have a couple of games as a test with a view to moving there,” said Dodson in a BBC radio interview.
“We hope we can come to some sort of arrangement for the coming season. We can’t stay at Murrayfield for the longer term,” he added.
Neither Hibernian nor the Scottish Rugby Union returned calls last night, but spokesmen for the organisations did confirm to The Scotsman last month that “productive” conversations on this question were ongoing. It was suggested at that point that it was unlikely that any agreement would be reached in time for the start of the 2015-16 campaign.
However, it now seems that both parties are keen to push forward on this matter sooner rather than later.
The extra rental income from a lease arrangement with SRU would undoubtedly come in handy for Hibs during these straitened times in Scottish football, especially as they are currently out of the top flight. However, concerns about the impact on the playing surface will be a crucial consideration for supporters and footballing staff at the club.
From Edinburgh’s point of view, it is crucial that they find a home ground more suited to generating an atmosphere that fans can buy into. The matchday experience at Murrayfield for Edinburgh supporters has been criticised with so few fans in such a vast stadium.
The capital outfit need only look westward along the M8 to see what Glasgow Warriors fans are enjoying at Scotstoun to appreciate the value of finding a more suitably sized home.
The Warriors’ average home gate for league matches this season is 6,676 and there has been a real buzz around the ground.
This undoubtedly has a lot to do with the success Gregor Townsend’s men have enjoyed on the pitch, winning the Pro12 title – but is also related to the quality of the all-round match-day experience at Scotstoun.
Efforts have been made in recent seasons to improve the spectator experience and to generate more atmosphere for Edinburgh games at Murrayfield, with the opening up of the East Stand (which is smaller and closer to the pitch than the West Stand) and the introduction of pitch-side standing areas around the other three edges of the ground. But any benefit from this has been marginal.
On the plus side, Murrayfield now has a state of the art hybrid playing surface, excellent floodlighting and top-class changing and medical facilities – but that does not make up for the lack of atmosphere in the ground when it is only around 5 per cent full (which was the case for most of their home games this season).
Easter Road was last used as a rugby venue during the 1998-9 season when Edinburgh Reivers (as the club was then known) played their Heineken Cup ties against Ebbw Vale and Toulouse before moving their pool decider against Ulster to Myreside to create a more intensive atmosphere for the 4,000 fans.