EDINBURGH may have been forced into a move out of Murrayfield tomorrow night by a bizarre infestation of worms at the stadium, but there is great intrigue around the playing of their RaboDirect PRO12 match at Meggetland.
The club yesterday hailed the fact that the game switched to avoid further damage to Murrayfield’s pitch is sold out, reaching Boroughmuir’s 3,000 capacity relatively quickly for the clash with the Ospreys at 7.35pm, despite the game being screened live on BBC Alba.
The game is the first competitive home match outside of the national stadium for almost a decade, the days of playing at Meadowbank and Myreside now lodged only in the memories of long-serving capital supporters.
David Davies, the Edinburgh Rugby managing director, said: “After two matches on the road we’re all delighted to be back in Edinburgh for a home fixture against a strong Welsh side, and are very much looking forward to running out in the close confines of a local club ground.
“We appreciate this move is disrupting for many of our fans and we are very grateful for their support and enthusiasm for this game, particularly in helping us sell out ahead of match-day.”
The debate over whether Edinburgh should remain at Murrayfield has continued to bubble away in the background, but on taking over the Edinburgh helm from Craig Docherty, Davies has found that it remains split.
Many rugby supporters across the city and the Borders insist that they would prefer games to be moved around, notably with the odd match in the Borders after the success of the pre-season fixture with Newcastle, while many of the loyal band of 2,000 or so capital fans believe that Murrayfield’s bar facilities and entertainment pre and post-match render the fact that the stadium lacks atmosphere as being less important.
Even former Edinburgh district captain and professional club chairman Gavin Hastings admitted that he backed a move away from Murrayfield, citing the lack of atmosphere with crowds of around 4,000 inside the 67,000-seater stadium as being disappointing in terms of a supporter experience and also a hindrance to the team.
However, with moves back to Myreside, to Heriot’s Goldenacre ground, Inverleith and Raeburn Place all throwing up seemingly immovable obstacles, from a lack of availability due to school sports requirements to a lack of floodlighting and finance, and groundshares with football clubs, including Hearts, among options that have been studied in some detail, Edinburgh remain no nearer to finding a more suitable smaller ground to call home.
Davies confirmed that he was not busy looking at other venues at the current time. “I’ve said that it is not at the top of my ‘to do’ list, and that has not changed,” he said. “We have a team that we need to get straight first. Recruitment of players and off-field staff has been the biggest priority for me in the last few months and finding a series of sponsors to help us put the business case forward.
“We have an improving team and management structure, but we need to have a commercial structure behind it and when we have that in place then we can turn our attention to venues.
“What the potential has shown me is that the answer is going to be a complex one. We’ve spoken to a number of clubs in Edinburgh that have grounds that could have taken games and the result of those discussions became complex when you factor in the school requirements. So it’s clear that there remains no simple answer to finding another ground.
“That does not mean that it is not something that we will continue to look at or that we’ve written off. There are some promoters of projects, such as potential developments at Meadowbank, that we’re watching with some interest, but what I am saying is that at this moment in time there are other issues to do with building a strong, competitive squad with the back-up support that that requires, and a strong commercial structure around this club, that is taking up most of my attention.”
There remains discussions with the City of Edinburgh Council around a proposed development at Meadowbank, with supermarket Sainsbury’s believed to have been one of several companies interested in acquiring land at the former Commonwealth Games venue. The money received by the council in such a land sale could result in a new all-purpose sports stadium being created, and that would be uppermost in the minds of councillors, but at present that remains very much a plan on paper.
Edinburgh plan to return to Murrayfield for their next home game, against Ulster on Friday 21 March (kick-off 7.45pm), and the SRU’s commitment to laying a new hybrid 3G pitch at Murrayfield over the summer should ensure there is no scope for the infamous nematodes to force Edinburgh out of the ground again.
However, many will be at Meggetland tomorrow night eager to witness the kind of atmosphere generated by a traditional club rugby ground, albeit one recently renovated by local authority funding and local community support, when it is packed to capacity.
Edinburgh also need a lift on the field after recent defeats to Connacht and the Scarlets, and so moving to the home of the new National League champions may also bring some positive vibes.