Edinburgh Rugby: Avoiding second season syndrome and making the most of an early trip to South Africa

Mike Blair was a breath of fresh air at Edinburgh in his debut campaign but the head coach now has to negotiate that difficult second season.

Scotland forward Sam Skinner has joined Edinburgh from Exeter Chiefs.  (Picture: Craig Williamson - SNS)
Scotland forward Sam Skinner has joined Edinburgh from Exeter Chiefs. (Picture: Craig Williamson - SNS)

Blair raised the bar with the style of rugby and there were tangible rewards in the shape of the 1872 Cup and the Scottish-Italian Shield, the latter securing the club’s place in this season’s Champions Cup.

While they fell short of landing major honours there was a new optimism around Edinburgh who settled quickly into their new home on the back pitches at Murrayfield. The artificial surface at the DAM Health Stadium made for fast, exciting rugby but Blair knows opponents will be better prepared this time around as he strives to improve on last season’s seventh-place finish in the United Rugby Championship.

That secured a place in the play-offs where Edinburgh lost in the last eight in Cape Town to the Stormers, the eventual winners of the inaugural URC.

Edinburgh coach Mike Blair and captain Grant Gilchrist with the Scottish-Italian Shield and 1872 Cup after the win over Glasgow. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

The quarter-finals were also as far as they got in Europe, with Wasps getting the better of them at the DAM Health in the Challenge Cup. Edinburgh had impressed in the group stage, winning their pool ahead of Saracens, London Irish, Brive and Pau. Blair’s side move up to the elite Champions Cup this season where Sarries await once more, along with Castres, the sides who finished runners-up in the English and French finals last season.

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Blair has worked hard to build up team spirit at Edinburgh which had frayed somewhat during the latter days of predecessor Richard Cockerill’s reign.

He has freshened up his backroom team for the new campaign with Michael Todd joining from Queensland Reds as defence coach. Todd, 32, replaces Calum MacRae who has moved to Italy to take up a role with Benetton.

The turnover of playing staff has been kept relatively low. Magnus Bradbury, the Scotland back-rower, has left for Bristol Bears and Argentina winger Ramiro Moyano was released, somewhat surprisingly after an impressive first season at the club.

Moyano’s age - he turned 32 in May - probably counted against him and Blair has sought to fill the gap by recruiting the former New Zealand Under-20 international Wes Goosen from Hurricanes. The South African-born Goosen is six years younger than Moyano and can also play at outside centre.

Other notable recruits include the Scotland forward Sam Skinner, who can play in the second and back rows, and prop Nick Auterac.

Edinburgh have also given an academy contract to the highly regarded Liam McConnell, the Boroughmuir Bears back-row who left school in May and was fast-tracked into the Scotland U20 squad for the Six Nations Summer Series.

Edinburgh’s success last season was built on a flying start to the season, particularly at home. Their schedule looks tougher this time around. They open with a home game against the Dragons on September 17 but then head to South Africa to take on the Bulls and the Stormers before returning home to host the Lions.

While it’s never easy to win on foreign soil, Edinburgh were one of the few teams to secure a victory in South Africa last season and they are likely to be facing opponents shorn of their Springboks due to the Rugby Championship.

An early test for Blair’s squad but one they will relish.

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