Edinburgh had their belated ‘Christmas’ bash last night and well deserved it was after a first half of the season which couldn’t have gone much better.
Top of Guinness Pro14 Conference B and into the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup, the 36-0 rout of Agen in front of almost 6,000 at BT Murrayfield was a perfect way to round off an encouraging start to a 2019-20 season which started in the shadows of the World Cup and is now put on abeyance as the Six Nations hoves into view. Of Scotland’s 38-man squad for the upcoming tournament, 16 from Edinburgh will report for duty.
“I don’t do nights out,” quipped a chipper head coach Richard Cockerill after Saturday’s cakewalk, which saw wing Darcy Graham become the first man to score four tries in a game for Edinburgh.
Football legend George Best spent a brief time in the Scottish capital with Hibernian, with a few nights out included for sure, and one of the endless list of stories about that great man ends with the line “where did it all go wrong, Mr Best?”
When it comes to Cockerill’s time in Edinburgh, the question is more “where did it all go right?”
Make no mistake, the capital pro team were in a dismal state of affairs a short few years ago.
Alan Solomons is a fine and decent rugby man but things were clearly not clicking under his stewardship. Watching Edinburgh toil away at Murrayfield with a 3,000 crowd in the 67,500-capacity stadium was an often dispiriting experience. They did make a European Challenge Cup final, though, losing to Gloucester at Twickenham Stoop in 2015.
Going as far as possible in the Pro14 and, at the very least, getting back to the top table of the Heineken Champions Cup will be the focus when club rugby resumes in a few weeks. The prospect of a trip to Marseille for a European final will not be sniffed at, though.
A trip back to face Pool 3 winners Bordeaux-Begles, who Cockerill rates as one of the best three sides in Europe right now, along with Exeter Chiefs and Leinster, now lies in store for the quarter-finals. Win that and it will be Bristol or Dragons at home for a shot at the Côte d’Azur.
Edinburgh were well beaten 32-17 in the French wine capital a week past Saturday but were half corked on that occasion.
Cockerill, right, has provided the kick up the backside required at Edinburgh and deserves to be applauded, although the no-nonsense former England hooker would be the first to say that no plaudits should be given out at the halfway mark.
After years of being the poor relations of Scottish pro-team rugby, things are starting to cook in the capital. Work is under way on the back pitches for a bespoke ‘Mini-Murrafield’ which the club has been crying out for.
It is an optimistic time for Edinburgh, which is a welcome development and one that Cockerill should be given credit for.
Should things go awry for Scotland in this Six Nations, it could be time up for Gregor Townsend, following the travails of 2019. Cockerill would appear to be, in the words of our Prime Minister, the “oven ready” candidate to succeed. But that is not a conversation for now. As things stand, Edinburgh are looking good.
While the week’s headlines were grabbed by Stuart Hogg’s ascendancy to the national captaincy, it was all about another Hawick man on Saturday as 22-year-old wing Darcy Graham became the first man to score four tries in a game for Edinburgh.
The game was, as expected, a breeze, with French Top 14 and Pool 3 basement boys Agen putting up a fight but no match for Cockerill’s well-drilled unit.
Graham’s excellent first-half hat-trick broke the back of the situation and he added a further score along with fellow wing Duhan van der Merwe in the second half as Jaco van der Walt and Simon Hickey contributed with the boot.
“Job done,” was Cockerill’s verdict. A job being done very well right now, you must say.