Edinburgh URC preview: semi-final potential if they can add grit to the guile

Edinburgh were a breath of fresh air last season, lighting up the URC with their expansive style, particularly at the DAM Health.

Sam Skinner joined Edinburgh from former European champions Exeter Chiefs. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Sam Skinner joined Edinburgh from former European champions Exeter Chiefs. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

For that, credit must go to Mike Blair who is in his first season completely overhauled the way Edinburgh play. The grinding cautiousness of the Richard Cockerill era was cast to the wind as Edinburgh peppered all-comers on their plastic pitch and it wasn’t until April 30 that they lost at home.

That defeat by Ulster cost them the chance of a home tie in the quarter-finals where they went down 28-17 in Cape Town to eventual winners, the Stormers.

In between, Edinburgh bounced back to defeat Glasgow Warriors, clinching the 1872 Cup, Scottish-Italian Shield and Champions Cup rugby in the process.

Edinburgh's co-captains, Jamie Ritchie and Grant Gilchrist. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

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2021/22 URC stats

Regular season: P18 W10 D1 L7 F421 A318 Pts54 = 7th

Quarter-finals: lost to Stormers

Top try scorers: Blair Kinghorn, Emiliano Boffelli, Mark Bennett (all 6)

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Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

Top points scorer: Emiliano Boffelli (107)

Prospects

For all Edinburgh’s elan, they faded in the home stretch and went from table-toppers to an eventual seventh place finish. More physicality is required if they want to break into the all-important top four and secure home advantage in the play-offs. Blair will be hoping new boys Sam Skinner and Nick Auterac can add an abrasive edge, along with the returning Jamie Ritchie and Bill Mata who both missed half the season with injury. Emiliano Boffelli, Darcy Graham and Mark Bennett need to keep firing the bullets in attack, with Blair Kinghorn supplying the ammo. Boffelli, their Argentine maestro, will miss the opening rounds due to international commitments in the Rugby Championship.

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Head coach

Emiliano Boffelli will miss the start of the season due to international commitments with Argentina. (Photo by Simon Wootton / SNS Group)

Blair is an Edinburgh man and keen to develop further the bond between city and club. Crowds numbers were encouraging, peaking at 24,000-plus for the home derby against Glasgow at Murrayfield, and there is a definite sense that the club is moving in the right direction. Blair has also sought to rebuild the club’s culture and team spirit. Expect to hear plenty about Edinburgh’s 150th anniversary, a landmark season for the district-turned-pro team.

New kids on the block

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Persuading Sam Skinner to swap recent English and European champions Exeter for Edinburgh was a coup. The Scotland forward brings experience, versatility and leadership and is equally at home in the second or back row.

Loosehead prop Nick Auterac has arrived following his release by Northampton and will inject some personality. The major new signing in the backs is ex-New Zealand U20 international Wes Goosen but the former Hurricanes wing/centre has been ruled out until mid-October with a calf injury.

Missing you already

Ramiro Moyano scored nine tries in 13 appearances in a brief but memorable Edinburgh career. Injury ended his season early but it was something of a surprise when the winger was released. Aside from his contribution on the field, he played a key role in helping fellow Argentine Boffelli settle into Edinburgh life.

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Also missed will be club centurion Magnus Bradbury who is pursuing his career in the English Premiership with Bristol Bears.

Other departures: Ben Toolis (Kintetsu Liners), Nathan Chamberlain (London Scottish), Sam Grahamslaw (Jersey Reds), George Taylor and James Johnstone (both retired).

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Home comforts

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The DAM Health Stadium is a tight, atmospheric ground, particularly for night games. The crowds built steadily through the season and adding a new tier to the Lothian Stand or filling in the corners has been mooted. Current capacity is 7,774 but there is potential to increase to 10,000 with modifications.

Musical interlude

Edinburgh like to treat their opponents to a blast of the Prodigy’s Invaders Must Die when they take to the field, a kind of musical equivalent of ‘you’ll have had your tea’. They also play the slightly more welcoming Streets of Edinburgh by the Proclaimers.

Captains

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Jamie Ritchie and Grant Gilchrist will share the gig, with Ritchie replacing stalwart hooker Stuart McInally as co-skipper as Blair bids to widen the leadership group.

Pre-season form

Pretty dismal. Lost at home to London Scottish then pipped in the last seconds by Benetton in Italy.

Opening fixtures

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Edinburgh kick off at home to Dragons on Saturday night then head to South Africa for back-to-back games against last season’s finalists, the Stormers and the Bulls, before coming home to host the Lions. Tough enough.

Prediction

Have the potential to make semi-finals but need to add grit to the guile in the big games.

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