To say that the home of Edinburgh was emerging as one of the game’s most intimidating bearpits would be a ridiculous exaggeration but skipper Stuart McInally has welcomed a new energy and buzz among the capital’s notoriously nonchalant rugby public.
With a crowd of over 20,000 expected at BT Murrayfield for tomorrow’s 1872 Cup opener there will still be more empty seats than filled as the national stadium continues to be a joke entry in an Ideal Home Show, but visiting Glasgow supporters may have to ditch their “library” jibes this year.
With plans for a more suitable “mini Murrayfield” on the back pitches bubbling away in the background, Edinburgh have turned the international stadium into something of a “fortress”, winning all their games there this season – a far cry from a few years ago when visiting sides seemed to profit more from the almost closed-door friendly atmosphere.
“We love playing here,” said McInally. “It is our home and we are proud of our home record, especially in these [1872 Cup] games where you are running out to a full top and bottom tier and the crowd is round the side as well,” said the Scotland hooker, who has been in the form of his life for the past season and a half.
“It is something to know they are there to support Edinburgh – the majority are anyway – which is great for the team. We’ll certainly be looking to maintain our record in this fixture.”
McInally believes that the bullish nature of coach Richard Cockerill has rubbed off on the club’s fans, who are beginning to find their voice and passion for a team who have enjoyed vastly improved results in the Guinness Pro14 and, more recently, a flying start on their return to Heineken Champions Cup action. “Obviously with Richard coming in, he’s brought that sort of hard edge to training to training and how hard we work and I feel that is the cornerstone of why we’re doing well at home, winning them at the death sometimes, because we do work really hard at training,” said McInally.
“There are times in games where you find those reserves because you’ve done it all in training. Obviously just belief, Richard knows what he’s talking about. He’s got a proven track record with Leicester as a player and coach and did well with Toulon before coming here.
“You know what he’s telling you works. He’s got that behind him and everyone buys into it which is excellent.”
Away form has been more of a problem, with last Sunday’s important European win at Newcastle a first in eight months, and McInally is looking forward to what is always a unique home occasion tomorrow. “We’d love to see as many supporters come out as possible,” he said. “We work really, really hard in training to try to put on a performance every week.
“It does give you a lift when you run out of the tunnel and there’s lots of fans there. For Glasgow as well if they see a lot of Edinburgh flags and fans it’s only going to help us. We hope to see a record crowd.
“There was a good bunch that went down to Newcastle and it was great looking up to see a lot of Edinburgh flags. They did make some noise and to score a try away from home and hear the crowd cheer is brilliant.
“The only thing that is better is to score a try here and hear 20,000 people cheering, hopefully we’ll get that on Saturday.”
A few weeks ago, McInally would have been expecting a hooker head-to-head with Scotland friends and rivals Fraser Brown or George Turner but injuries to that pair mean it will be 23-year-old Grant Stewart, who signed his first professional contract with Glasgow yesterday.
“It’s sad that Fraser and George both seem to be out,” said McInally. “But I know Grant Stewart well from the summer tour where I worked with him a bit. He is an excellent player who has been playing really well. He had a good game against the Ospreys and he came on at the weekend against Lyon.
“He is a very capable young player, somebody we will be watching closely. They have real quality there in Fraser and George but Grant is a very good young player who people maybe don’t know too much about so it will be a different type of challenge.”
McInally is happy with how the Edinburgh front row is functioning, with Test tighthead WP Nel looking like his old self again.
“He’s been excellent for us, he really is back to his best,” said the hooker.
“Scrummaging is a dream with him. He’s so, so strong and so proud to be a tighthead prop, he doesn’t go back in the scrum ever, which is great for me as a hooker.”