The birthplace of international rugby has witnessed countless great games and famous faces since the Accies’ launch in 1857 and the day in 1871 when England and Scotland first met, but the two clubs to have produced more Scotland internationalists than any other have not faced each other in the capital in meaningful competition.
They have shared countless internationalists too, from the British Lions captain Bill Maclagan to GPS Macpherson, Rob Wainwright to John Allan and, more recently, Phil Godman, Mungo Strachan and Tommy Spinks. Even London Scottish CEO Kenny Baillie started his senior career in the Accies’ pale blue and white hoops.
Among the guests at today’s pre-match lunch at Edinburgh Academy will be Charlie Richardson, who captained both clubs, and Gavin Hastings, who left the capital and also captained Scottish. Accies are working feverishly to develop Scottish rugby’s most famous ground into something more befitting the 21st century, while fielding an amateur side in the top flight of Scottish rugby again, and London Scottish are now rallying back towards the elite of English rugby while competing with clubs on multi-million budgets.
But that does not faze Accies’ current head coach Jonny Else, at least after Edinburgh pitched in to the effort by releasing almost a whole pack of squad players not required for their Heineken Cup match against Perpignan this evening. “The integration this cup has brought between the pro and amateur game in Scotland has been fantastic,” said Else, “for the clubs and the players, of both sides.
“We have a good blend in the team with a front row of Lewis Niven, Alex Allan and Stuart McInally, who will be playing his third game for us as we help him adjust to life as a hooker. We’ve got our captain Greg Campbell alongside Rob McAlpine in the second row, and they’ve been working really well together, and we have an exciting back row that we’re looking to get into the game as much as possible.”
That is something of an understatement as Scotland flanker Ross Rennie, a former Edinburgh Academy pupil, makes his first appearance for the club, alongside Mike Coman, Edinburgh’s new siRgning from New Zealand, and talented under-20 cap Hamish Watson.
“The good thing from my point of view,” continued Else, “is the way they have integrated. On Mike’s first night at training he was here earlier than me, and I came in and found him chatting away to two of our young kids and you could see the enthusiasm and feel he had for club rugby.
“But Stuart has fitted in well, Rob just gets down to working on lineouts and forward play with the coaches no bother, Ross has been great this week and they’re all mucking in well.”
Gala kick off an hour later, at 3pm, at Netherdale in their British and Irish Cup match against Leeds Carnegie, and similarly George Graham has welcomed a number of Edinburgh professionals into his squad as they seek to build on an impressive showing against Bristol, and regain pride after an 86-6 thrashing away to Leeds. The visitors will be without former Leicester lock Calum Green and Stevie McColl, the Scottish full-back who carved open the Maroons in the home game and pricked the awareness of Scotland’s national coaches. However, they start with Premiership props in the shape of ex-Sale loosehead Lee Imiolek and Charlie Beech, currently on loan from Bath, Worcester loan signing Harry Casson at lock and welcome back 23-year-old skipper Jacob Rowan. Former Northampton and England Saxons centre Jon Clarke, recently signed by Leeds from Worcester, steps into the midfield to face talented young Scot Chris Auld. Stirling County were in action in Plymouth last night and Ayr take to the Mennaye Field in Penzance tomorrow against the Cornish Pirates boosted by pros and academy players Mark Bennett, Finn Russell, Gordon Reid, Fergus Scott, Fraser Brown and George Hunter.
There will also be Scottish blood in an opposition squad captained by Canada skipper Aaron Carpenter, notably ex-Aberdeen and Warriors prop Ben Prescott and Perth-born lock Neale Patrick who was in the Edinburgh academy and played for Scotland at under-20 level before heading south, initially to Rotherham, a few years ago.