Edinburgh Rugby chief explains Mike Blair appointment and what to expect from new coach and plastic pitch

The combination of a new coach and an artificial pitch could have a transformative impact on Edinburgh this season as the club prepares for the inaugural United Rugby Championship.

New Edinburgh coach Mike Blair at the club's stadium which boasts an artificial playing surface. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
New Edinburgh coach Mike Blair at the club's stadium which boasts an artificial playing surface. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS

The competition, which will see South Africa’s big four join last season’s Pro14 clubs, is due to kick off next month.

With Mike Blair at the helm and Edinburgh ensconced in their new bijou home at Murrayfield, there is a sense that the club is beginning a fresh chapter.

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Douglas Struth, Edinburgh Rugby’s MD, describes it as evolution rather than revolution but it is clear he is expecting to see a more exciting brand of rugby than was witnessed at times during the difficult 2020-21 season.

Edinburgh Rugby's managing director Douglas Struth, second from right, with Paul Denton of Scottish Building Society, the club's new sponsor, and players James Lang and Jamie Ritchie. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

The return of fans - season tickets have reached record levels - will add to the occasion but it is the artificial playing surface and the arrival of Blair which is expected to see the capital side play more expansively.

Edinburgh under his predecessor Richard Cockerill were a physical force, tough up front but not inclined to throw the ball around too much. The plastic pitch will necessitate a quicker style which chimes with Blair’s own philosophy.

“I think whenever there is a change of head coach there is always going to be a different personality,” noted Struth. “There is always going to be a different way of working. But we’re always trying to get better.

“From the Cockerill era, what we have to recognise is all the good stuff which happened over the last four years and the foundations which were built and the solidity he provided the club.

“What is really interesting watching Mike interact with the players now, and the culture and environment around the club, is that there is an evolution again now.

“It is an evolution not a revolution, but it is certainly an evolution. I think Mike is going to adapt the way we play, which we probably going to have to do anyway with the new surface, so it is going to be really interesting to see that different style.”

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Struth is adamant that Cockerill’s sudden departure last month was right for both parties. The pursuit of Blair was swift and painless given that he was already on the SRU payroll and the new man readily accepted the chance to swap his role as Scotland assistant for his first head coach’s job.

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“We parted company with Cockers and that was probably the best thing for the club and probably the best thing for Cockers as well and we wish him really, really well,” said Struth. “Off the back of that you’re thinking, ‘right, what’s the best outcome here?’ If there’s a Mike Blair there who we know is ready and we’ve been told is ready by people who really know their onions then we look there first.

“And that’s what we did and he was our preferred candidate. He was Scottish Rugby’s preferred candidate as well and that aligned.”

The Blair era begins on September 11 with a friendly against Newcastle Falcons which will mark Edinburgh’s first game at their new ground.

“Season ticket sales are up to 3,300 now, which is a significant increase on the previous record, so the way the fans have responded to that, we can’t really thank them enough,” said Struth.

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