When Edinburgh were on the verge of booking their place in the knockout stages of Europe earlier this season, head coach Richard Cockerill expressed a preference for playing the home quarter-final at Myreside and looking to pack it out.
It was always likely that the SRU would have other ideas and look to attract more than the 5,500 capacity of the George Watson’s College ground to BT Murrayfield and, in the weeks that followed, it swiftly emerged the attempt to build a new home at Myreside had failed and Edinburgh were moving back to the national stadium for the rest of the season, with talk of building a new mini stadium on the back pitches.
While Cockerill’s main task when arriving in the summer was to improve a woefully under-performing team on the pitch – and he has exceeded expectations already – the Englishman has always taken an interest in the vexed issue of creating a true identity for professional rugby in Edinburgh.
That remains a work in progress – although, to be frank, “progress” has remained elusive since the pro era began – but Cockerill hopes the team’s good form this season and the prospect of four successive matches which, on paper at least, come with real box office appeal, can awake the capital’s dormant rugby public to buy into what he is building at the club.
“I just hope we get a good support. We’re having a good season and I like people to support their city and their team, because the boys are working very hard to make this thing work,” said Cockerill as he looked ahead to Saturday evening’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Cardiff Blues at Murrayfield.
The Myreside experiment failed for a variety of reasons, Edinburgh tearing up a three-season agreement after just six months, but Cockerill is refusing to let the retreat back to the cavernous national stadium detract from the feelgood factor his players have been generating on the field as they look to stretch a six-match winning streak and clinch a European semi-final.
“The reality is that whether at Myreside or here the crowds stay the same,” said the coach. “We might get a little more here [Murrayfield] than we do at Myreside and I’m still trying to work that out. I’m being kept abreast of [new ground discussions] but my job isn’t about venues, it’s about to coach a team.
“I don’t want to get distracted by others things. My job is to get this team winning. If I do that, then it should hopefully take care of itself. But, to be fair to this team, we’ve been nomadic for a while so we turn up and play, do what we do, that’s a good mentality and it’s served us well. This stadium’s too big for us, but there’s still no reason we can’t get 8, 10, 12,000 to come and watch us. And then, wherever we go next, let’s hope we can continue doing that.
“We’ve got a team people can relate to, can support and walk away at the end of games and say, ‘that’s my team and I’m proud of what they’re trying to do’. I hope we start to get more people through the gates.”
It is understood ticket sales are already close to 5,000 for Saturday’s clash with Cardiff, with home Pro14 crunches against Ulster, Scarlets and Glasgow to follow in April. For now, though, Cockerill is fully focused on the Welsh side. “They’ve been on good form – nearly as good form as us. They’re five from five, we’re six from six, so I think that makes us the form team.”
“We’ve just got to make sure we keep ourselves honest. When you’re winning and you get the rub of the green, which we have on a few occasions in the last five or six weeks, we just need to make sure that doesn’t paper over the cracks of the things we need to improve on.”
Cockerill revealed that Scotland’s most capped player, hooker Ross Ford, is back in full training and available for selection after a long injury lay-off.