Can Edinburgh Rugby make this a season to remember?

Edinburgh Rugby training session on May 31, 2022
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With just 10 days to go until the start of the new United Rugby Championship season, we preview how Scotland’s capital city side Edinburgh Rugby can build on a successful campaign last year and push to reach another gear this 2022/23 season.

Edinburgh Rugby: What their upcoming season looks like?

2021/22 Season

Last season Edinburgh Rugby managed a first-place finish in their URC regional group, which saw them come seventh overall out of the 16 teams above rivals Glasgow Warriors and all of both the Italian and Welsh sides. They ultimately lost in their playoff quarter-final game against eventual tournament winners the Stormers 28-17 at the Cape Town Stadium. Despite that, however, they booked themselves a place in this year’s European Champions Cup having topped their group and won the Italian-Scottish regional cup. 

Edinburgh Rugby also won back the coveted 1872 Cup from their neighbours along the M8 to give them their seventh competition win since its inception in the 2007/08 season and put them one behind Glasgow on eight. Mike Blair’s men secured the trophy with a 45-41 aggregate win over the two games after losing 30-17 in the first leg at Scotstoun and winning 28-11 at Scotland’s national home of rugby Murrayfield Stadium.

In Europe, Edinburgh Rugby made it to the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup but was narrowly beaten 34-30 in a thrilling encounter with Lee Blacket’s Londo Wasps. They return to the Champions Cup this season after a year away in Europe’s second-best international competition and were listed as a tier four side, ranked seventh alongside French outfit Clermont and English powerhouse Exeter Chiefs.

This Season (2022/23)

Edinburgh Rugby has one last pre-season game to play before the start of their competitive year when they face up against Benetton at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo in Treviso on Friday, September 9th. The two sides met twice last season with Benetton winning the first by a single point 28-27 and Edinburgh winning the second on home soil 24-10. Edinburgh has already played one pre-season game.

After their trip to Italy, however, the team from Scotland’s capital kickoff their URC season with a home game against the Welsh side, Dragons at the DAM Health Stadium on Saturday, September 17th. Edinburgh Rugby won their round one game at home last season against another Welsh side Scarlets, 26-22, and will be looking to replicate that result to hit the ground running this time out. 

Mike Blair and his team then travel to South Africa for two away games in rounds two and three, playing the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld and then reigning champions the Stormers in Cape Town respectively. Edinburgh then returns home but still faces South African opposition when the Emirates Lions visit from Johannesburg. 

In the Heineken Cup, Edinburgh is in Pool A alongside the likes of Harlequins, Leinster and Racing 92. They play their first game back in the tournament away to Saracens on the weekend of the 9th of December 2022. Edinburgh was the first Scottish team to reach the quarter-finals of the competition in 2003/04 and achieve their club best in 2011/12 when they reached the semi-finals before being narrowly beaten by Ulster 22-19. The last time they played in the Champions Cup was in 2020/21 when they got to the Round of 16, only to be beaten comfortably by Racing 56-3.

Squad Changes

The team has seen more exits than signings so far this summer but has recruited well in vital areas to leave a somewhat compact but effective squad as it stands.

Nathan Chamberlain, James Johnstone and Ramiro Moyano, among others, have all left the capital. Second-row Ben Toolis leaves after almost 10 years and 130 appearances at the club to join Kintetsu Liners in Japan, while back-row Magnus Bradbury makes a move down south to Bristol Bears. George Taylor, a player who has spent his entire career at Edinburgh Rugby, also leaves after having been forced to retire at the age of just 25 due to recurring injury problems.

On the flip side, however, Edinburgh Rugby has brought in a number of young players, including getting prop Dan Gamble back from loan and adding back-row Liam McConnell Boroughmuir. Additionally, they have added three strong players with proven experience that will look to help the squad reach a new level. 29-year-old prop Nick Auterac, who has previously played with Saracens, Bath, Harlequins, and Northampton Saints joins the team from England, as does Scotland international Sam Skinner from Exeter Cheifs.

South African-born Wes Goosen has also come in to bolster the back line and can cover centre, wing or fullback. Goosen is a strong runner, having scored 31 tries in his 71 appearances with New Zealand-based side the Hurricanes, and could be the bright spark Edinburgh needs this coming season. 

Key Players

In Edinburgh’s current 45-man squad, there are a number of players, both younger and more experienced, that could have a significant impact in a season that could bring the team some joy. The whole squad will have to play a part this year as they not only have the URC to compete for but are also part of a difficult group in the Champions Cup that has a lot of good teams from around Europe.

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In the forward pack, ever-present Hamish Watson will be looking to continue his great form and could be instrumental for the team when he steps up and leads from the front. His back-row partner Jamie Ritchie is another that makes himself known on the pitch, both offensively and defensively, and will be looking to come back fighting after a spell on the sidelines due to injury. As previously mentioned Auterac and Skinner bring great experience and depth to Edinburgh Rugby and are two players that know full well what it takes to play at the highest level of club rugby.

In the backline, Blair Kinghorn’s shift to flyhalf could prove beneficial for the men in blue and orange and opens up space outside of him for other players such as Wes Goosen and James Lang to shine. Emiliano Boffelli has had a fantastic summer away on international duty with Argentina and if he can recreate that form for his club Edinburgh will have a lot of chances to put big scores on the board. Winger Darcy Graham is another that has consistently shown solid growth and put in good performances for both Edinburgh Rugby and Scotland over the last few years and now at the age of 25, it could be his season to really kick on and reach his peak performance. 

Edinburgh Rugby and building the foundation from the 2021/22 season

This is what Edinburgh Rugby head coach, Mike Blair said about the game:

I believe there is a really good understanding of what we’re trying to do,” said coach Mike Blair when asked about building on last season’s successes. 

“The players have really started taking ownership of their team, whether that’s standards on field, off field, learning, leading on the field, leading in their own improvement – that’s all stuff I’ve seen them making strides in.

“So I believe that will put us in a stronger position for the season.”

2021/22 may not have been Edinburgh’s best season in their history but it was certainly a season that has provided a solid foundation for Mike Blair’s men to build upon. Strong additions to the squad, along with a return to the pinnacle of European rugby that will have fans and players raring to go,  give the side every chance of finding their stride and truly making this a season to remember.

 

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