Edinburgh, with a largely young, inexperienced and unknown team, do look in good fettle – better, it has to be said, than Glasgow, who went down 28–0 away to Sale last Friday, the same English team Edinburgh had beaten 22–28 the week before.
But not only are Edinburgh looking good on the pitch. The new management at the SRU – and at Edinburgh – have decided they had to do something to make the empty spaces at Murrayfield more appealing on match days.
Friday’s night match at home to the Newcastle Falcons was the first try-out for the new, supporter-friendly initiative – and it seemed to be an unqualified success.
For the last few years, Edinburgh’s hardy few supporters have been given space in the big west stand – which, as anyone who knows Murrayfield will remember, is the most distant from the pitch. There is a 100-metre running track between the west stand and the pitch – built, apparently, when American football was all the rage and the American teams needed that much space for all their players.
But for rugby, particularly, when there are not many supporters present, it adds so much distance to the spectating experience that it has often eroded any home advantage Edinburgh may have had before the game kicks off.
This season, fans have been given the east stand, which is much closer to the pitch; but also, importantly, Edinburgh have placed crash barriers along the west touchline and are allowing fans to watch the game from pitchside. It has changed what was a pretty soulless and detached experience into something much more real, much more forceful and more like a club game.
Leaning on the barriers, spectators are close enough to hear the play calls from the players, to witness the crunching hits at a very close distance and be as near to the action as it is possible to be in any professional rugby ground in the country – possibly even the world.
There aren’t any seats, but with a catering van selling burgers and beers just by the 22-yard line, everything is much closer – and not just the action.
Edinburgh have long needed something to lift the crowds at Murrayfield and these new developments are certainly part of the answer. The other part of the answer is a winning team – and, from the look of Friday night’s efforts, Edinburgh may be closer to uncovering it.
Edinburgh have already lost seven players to the World Cup, including their first-choice front row. That is a hefty gap to fill and the first few games of a new season, while the World Cup is underway, were always going to prove problematic for teams such as Edinburgh who have so many international stars.
But it really does seem as if a whole bunch of youngsters are ready to step up. Tom Brown at full-back was a revelation coming forward and the line he took at speed to breach the Newcastle line, before giving the scoring pass to Greig Laidlaw, was first-class (and this was while Edinburgh were down to 14 men).
Laidlaw himself was inspirational and, if feeling aggrieved by his absence from the World Cup squad, he didn’t let it affect his game – playing at scrum-half, fly-half and full-back at various stages in the match and scoring all but five of Edinburgh’s points in their 20–17 win.
David Denton at number eight is developing into the good, ball-carrying back-rower Edinburgh have needed for some time, while Sean Cox at six displayed one delightful grubber through the Newcastle lines that wouldn’t have disgraced a top fly-half.
Phil Godman wasn’t at his best at fly-half – but, to be fair, he has been out of the game for many months and this was his first proper game back. Nevertheless, he will have to improve with so many talented youngsters eager to push him out of the way in the pursuit of first-team rugby at Edinburgh.
Perhaps the most heartening aspect, though, was the performance of what is clearly Edinburgh’s second-choice front row. Kyle Traynor, Andrew Kelly and Jack Gilding kept the Edinburgh scrum solid (although Traynor knocked on at least three times, so needs to do better in the loose).
Matt Scott looked composed and lively when he came on behind the scrum – and, crucially, Edinburgh went ahead and closed out the game, a clear sign of maturity from such a young side.
Tim Visser’s brother Sepp was given a chance on the wing, but he didn’t really show, at this early stage, that he has quite what it takes to step up to professional rugby. His brother, however, was his usual brilliant self. It is such a shame that Scotland will have to wait another year for his services, as he is clearly the best winger in Scotland and possibly the best winger in Celtic rugby at the moment.
But Scotland’s loss is Edinburgh’s gain and those fans who choose the west touchline to watch Edinburgh games in the coming weeks will see him at close-hand. If that doesn’t bring the punters in, nothing will.
One final point to brood over, though. The Magners League has changed its name this year to the RaboDirect Pro12. As it is sponsored by a bank which hardly has a presence in Scotland, no one here will really know what to call it. It may end up getting called the Pro12 for short, or perhaps the Celtic Pro12.
Either way, Edinburgh could really do with being there or thereabouts at the end of the season if they are going to show that this really is the start of something new and special at Murrayfield.