Edinburgh Rugby review: Second season syndrome, coaching upheaval, injured talisman but fans stay loyal

The bald statistics of Edinburgh Rugby’s season make for fairly grim reading.

A 12th place finish in the United Rugby Championship left them 10 points adrift of the play-off positions and they won only six of 18 league fixtures. The contrast with the previous campaign was stark. In Mike Blair’s first season in charge Edinburgh won 10, drew one and lost seven, securing 54 points, 16 more than they would in 2022-23. Optimism had been high going into the campaign and a thumping win over the Dragons on the opening weekend was the perfect start but Edinburgh’s next three games were against South African teams and all ended in defeat. Two of them were close run things and narrow losses were to be a feature of the season but Blair’s side bounced back with wins over Benetton at home and Zebre and Cardiff away. Edinburgh were playing effective, attacking rugby and in Darcy Graham they had the URC’s most entertaining player. He scored eight tries in his first five matches before the international break, including a hat-trick in the 33-31 loss to the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld. The winger took his form into the Scotland camp, scoring against the All Blacks and then notching another hat-trick in the dismantling of Argentina.

Graham returned to club duties at home to Munster in early December, a match on which Edinburgh’s season turned. He scored a 14th minute try but suffered a knee injury 12 minutes later that would force him off and keep him out until late March. The effect on Edinburgh was immediate and long lasting. Although they led Munster 17-7 as half-time approached they ended up losing the game 38-17. Things unravelled fairly quickly after that, in the URC at least. They waved goodbye to the 1872 Cup with back-to-back defeats by Glasgow Warriors over Christmas and then, after scraping past Zebre at home, lost five of their final six games.

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Blair’s shock announcement on February 24 that he would be stepping down at the end of the season failed to galvanise the squad who won just once more, against the Ospreys at the DAM Health Stadium. Europe had provided some respite during December and January. Castres, runner-up in France the previous season, were beaten home and away, and Edinburgh came mightily close to doing the double over Saracens too. They played exceptionally well during a narrow loss in Barnet then beat the English giants with a gritty home performance in which Luke Crosbie was outstanding. It sealed a place in the knockout stage but was not quite enough to get a home tie and they were paired with Leicester Tigers in the last 16 in late March. By this stage Steve Diamond had been parachuted in to assist Blair. It was a strange situation. The former Saracens, Sale and Worcester boss came with a no-nonsense reputation and did little to dispel this when he reported with a degree of relish that there had been a fight in training before the Leicester match and that he was getting the blame for it. In echoes of the early days of Richard Cockerill’s reign, Diamond accused Edinburgh of being “too nice”, and also said he was “sick of hearing” about Edinburgh’s win over Saracens. The bad cop routine couldn’t arrest the losing run and the capital side were edged out 16-6 by Leicester at Welford Road.

Mike Blair applauds the fans after his final home game as Edinburgh head coach.  (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)Mike Blair applauds the fans after his final home game as Edinburgh head coach.  (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Mike Blair applauds the fans after his final home game as Edinburgh head coach. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

Edinburgh rallied to give Blair a proper send off with the big win over Ospreys in the final home game but it was too little too late. The head coach’s mid-season announcement didn’t help but was not the main reason for the dip from the previous year. Graham’s injury was a real blow and too many of Edinburgh’s big players lost their form. Emiliano Boffelli had been outstanding in 2021-22 but struggled to recapture the sparkle, possibly as a result of an exhausting international schedule with Argentina. Duhan van der Merwe returned to Edinburgh in October following Worcester’s financial collapse but injuries hampered him and it was Scotland who saw the best of the winger. Blair’s first season in charge had seen Edinburgh play with speed and flair, with Graham, Blair Kinghorn, Mark Bennett and Ben Vellacott in the vanguard. The new stadium-new coach combination turbo-charged their campaign and opponents struggled to cope at the DAM Health. Blair was asked about “the difficult second album” on eve of his sophomore campaign and it is true to say that visiting teams were less daunted and/or surprised by the compact ground and fast artificial surface. Edinburgh lost more than they won at home in the URC and their pack struggled to gain the upper hand like they had in the previous season.

An overhaul of the playing staff is underway, with 18 leaving the club, including Scotland internationals Stuart McInally, Damien Hoyland, Henry Pyrgos, Nick Haining and Jaco van der Walt and senior pros Henry Immelman, Lee-Roy Atalifo, Harrison Courtney, Jamie Jack, Nick Auterac, Jack Blain, Cammy Hutchison, Pierce Phillips and Bruce Houston, as well as four academy players. Recruitment has been focused on quality rather than quantity, with Scotland internationals Ben Healy, Ewan Ashman, Scott Steele, Javan Sebastian signed from Munster, Sale, Harlequins and Scarlets, respectively, along with Saracens prop Robin Hislop and Coventry back-row Tom Dodd. The coaching situation is less clear. Blair has gone but could return as defence coach; Diamond remains and has been placed in charge “until at least August”, with responsibility for overseeing pre-season. The Rugby World Cup means the new URC campaign will not begin until October 20-21 so Edinburgh have time on their side but with so many of their players likely to miss the start of the season because of international duty it is imperative that the head coach’s role is filled before kick-off.

Perhaps the biggest positive from a disappointing season was that Edinburgh’s supporters stayed loyal, with their average attendance up 300 on the previous season.



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