SCOTLAND internationalists from the capital were queuing up to laud the class of 2012 after Saturday’s thrilling Heineken Cup win over Toulouse.
The Grand Slam heroes of 1984, Iain Milne and Jim Calder, were among countless Edinburgh and Scotland legends in the Murrayfield crowd, while the hero of the 2000 Calcutta Cup win at Murrayfield, and of Edinburgh’s first-ever Heineken Cup success on English soil, Duncan Hodge, was willing his latest protégé Greig Laidlaw on from the stands.
Milne told The Scotsman: “It was a fantastic result, up there with the best any Scottish team has produced at any level. It really is and shouldn’t be underestimated.
“When you look at the quality in that Toulouse team, the number of times they have won the cup, got to finals and really dominated Europe; the fact that currently they lead the Top 14, and we’re second bottom of the RaboDirect league, then it is an enormous result. And we deserved to win.
“The crowd was incredible. I think people came for a good day out not expecting much, but then got a sense of as the game went on that we were very much in it, and then the nervousness as it hangs in the balance and, as Scots, you begin to expect the disaster to come from somewhere.
“I remember with a lot of pride representing Edinburgh as an old district, and one of the stand-out memories for me was going to France and beating Perpignan, but this is way beyond that.
“But you have to be strong in the forwards still to beat the French, and our forwards really stuck in; we lost some ball, stole some of theirs, thought we might be in trouble and came back well.
“You really feel something is building in professional rugby in Scotland right now. The club is doing a lot off the field, the players seem to be getting out and meeting the public more, but this result will be huge for the game. How many sports in Scotland get 37,000 for a club game?
“Now, I’m away to check the flights to Dublin!”
Calder, the former Scotland flanker, is now Edinburgh Rugby’s chairman. He said the club had been blown away by the size of the crowd, which set a new record outside of France and Ireland for a quarter-final fixture and even surpassed the number that watched Scotland famously beat South Africa at Murrayfield in 2010. “I just feel an immense sense of pride for the players, the coaches, the crowd and everyone who got behind the team,” Calder said.
“This wasn’t just a good day for Edinburgh Rugby, it was a good day for Scottish rugby. We needed something to pick us up after a poor Six Nations and here we are in the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup, one of the world’s top tournaments, and you have to pinch yourself.
“At the point where we lost two men to the sin-bin and they scored I remember thinking ‘oh no, here we go again’, but we are pretty resilient people, us Scots, and the boys dug in and came back from that really well.
“It’s knife-edge stuff, but imagine if we won in Dublin, and why not? It’s great testament to Michael Bradley, Tom Smith and Billy McGinty, and I think Tom in particular is really coming on; a quiet, but very bright coach.” Duncan Hodge was the match-winning hero when Edinburgh struck their first Heineken Cup win in England, beating reigning champions Northampton on their own patch in 2000 with a late drop-goal.
“At the time that was huge,” said Hodge, “but this was a bigger day because it was in front of a lot more people, it was on our home turf and it was the quarter-finals so there was a lot more pressure. It was massive for Scottish rugby in general and will give a lot of players in Edinburgh and Glasgow a big boost. Edinburgh have beaten an absolutely quality side.
“The turning point for me was losing just eight points during the sin-binnings. The guys did so well to stay in the game there. That is very close to international standard and it is showing that our players are learning how to win games at that level.
“Greig [Laidlaw] was typical of that. He has only played maybe 15 or 16 games at stand-off in senior rugby, nothing for a stand-off, and he turns in that kind of performance. It showed how he has improved this season and that’s down to his fantastic work ethic.”
As to the effect of this on the club’s future, Calder added: “We do have to build on this. Next season we will have bigger player budgets and stronger squads, and at a time when the Welsh regions seem to be imploding and Italian rugby has problems.
“We are also getting more and more support for the club off the field, with the business club taking off and bringing new members on board all the time, and Craig [Docherty, CEO] is working hard to find sponsors to help us sustain the growth. A result like this will only help.”