Our Season with Edinburgh Rugby: The Players
One of the most interesting elements of our work covering Edinburgh Rugby this 2018/19 season has been gaining access to the players we have come to be familiar with over the past couple of years, as well as a few new faces. Erin McRitchie takes us through some of her standout moments.
Our co-editor Erin McRitchie has spent the season at Edinburgh home games, enjoying this view from the press box as she reports on both Pro14 and Champions Cup clashes. (Photo: Erin McRitchie)
Their insight and analysis
It could be argued that nobody knows the game better than those who play it, devote their careers to it, and who love it enough to take the physical brunt of it week-in-week-out. I would argue that being in the presence of such people – the players themselves – adds a new angle to the game.
You get to understand the role of the individuals better – their influence on the team, the individual drive they possess, their connection with the media, their views of their coach, or simply of the game in general.
From a personal perspective, being around the different characters that make up the Edinburgh team has also allowed me to learn how to adapt to the people that walk through the doors of the suites to sit behind the desk for the customary press conference, or the ones who trail into the press box post-match, their studs now in their hands and just their socks lining their feet.
You come to recognise who is open to partaking in a bit of a joke, who is going to give concise answers, who is going to trail the answer – sometimes leaving you wondering if there was actually a true point to the long-windedness – and who simply wants to answer the questions in a professional manner, so they can fulfil the media requirement of their job.
Regardless of what kind of outlook they have on the media process, I can honestly say that I have learned something new, or appreciated a new angle, thanks to each player that I have met throughout this season.
Whether that be learning what Darcy Graham thinks when he puts in a tackle that makes the majority of the crowd wince, to Fraser McKenzie discussing the importance of being a senior member of the squad supporting the wealth of young talent emerging in the scrum, or hearing how much Pierre Schoeman is relishing his time in Edinburgh, and in the Pro14.
Our top picks
Of course, spending the season with a team, you come to recognise some stand out players. You come to identify the players who are the ones to watch out for, the ones who are going to be integral to the team going forward.
This season saw Richard Cockerill continue to regenerate the Edinburgh squad he took charge of at the start of the 2017/18 season. This metamorphosis that the club is undergoing has allowed a number of young powerhouses to emerge, and it has been a delight to see.
In the backline, Darcy Graham and Blair Kinghorn have been electric – jinking and jiving their way through many an opposition defence, with the sight of them going across the line for a try being far from unusual.
Becoming a permanent figure at fullback, this season seems to have allowed Kinghorn to develop a sense of authority and control in his game, whilst Graham has become an instrumental figure in Edinburgh’s attacking play, as he has become accustomed to coming off his wing to hunt for the ball.
Never ones to let the backline have all the attention, the young pillars of the scrum have ensured that their presence is recognised. Magnus Bradbury and Jamie Ritchie have continually been anchors of the scrum on the flanks, key securers of the lineout, and even important to the play on the wings, providing the attack with a hard-hitting passing option out wide.
Then there is Callum Hunter-Hill who has become a symbol of how working hard in the background, learning from the experience around you, and seizing your opportunities can pay off successfully. The academy-produced lock has on a number of occasions been the one to make the lineout calls, and has always proved to be a safe pair of hands at the set piece.
Magnus Bradbury and Blair Kinghorn have put in some impressive performances for Edinburgh this season. (Photo: Erin Kirsop)
The way the players present themselves on the pitch is important, that is a given, but the personalities of the individuals have also come to capture the attention this year. One player in particular has well and truly endeared himself to teammates, coaches and fans alike. Pierre Schoeman has truly cemented himself as an eccentric and loveable character in the minds of many an Edinburgh fan.
The South African arrived in Edinburgh, completely open-minded to the capital club’s way of operating and seems to have taken a serious liking to the Scottish culture. His game has in no way been disappointing either, with Schoeman becoming a near-permanent feature of the scrum.
From one prop to another, special mention has to go to Murray McCallum for being quite possibly the best side-line hype-man Edinburgh could have asked for. Whenever he isn’t selected, McCallum is in his seat, eyes glued to the action for the duration of the match. And he doesn’t just act as a casual observer, oh no, he is up on his feet, clapping, waving – as though the force of it is going to move the phases onwards – and shouting his support to his teammates.
Not enough is always said for the support of the whole squad of players on game days, and so to see the involvement of guys like McCallum during the games truly cements how much of a collective effort getting a team through a season can be. So, you continue with your cheerleading duties McCallum, we are here for it.
I couldn’t possibly write about the players, without including some of their thoughts as well – so here is a small compilation of some of the best quotes the players have uttered throughout the season.
Allan Dell – following his return from injury, discussed his favourite guilty secret food:
“Definitely shortbread. And I like my breakfast, mate – tattie scones. Biltong? I’ve got away from that. The full breakfast: black pudding, haggis and a scone afterwards. But that has gone now. I’m taking my diet seriously again.”
Darcy Graham – at the start of the season, he was looking to come into his own and push for the Scotland squad [which he was included in for the Six Nations, to large acclaim] and he managed all of this despite the slight doubts critics had about his build:
“I want to prove a point that there is still room for these small boys in the game. You have to go out and play each game as it comes and just enjoy the experience.”
“It is kind of difficult [to deal with bigger players]. Technique comes into it a lot as these big boys run flat out and it is very hard to stop them, so you have a bit of heart and put your body in front of them. I’ve got no respect for my body: I just throw myself into it.”
Blair Kinghorn – rather fittingly, considering the impact the former academy players have had on Edinburgh, Kinghorn spoke during the infancy of the season about the impact of playing professionally with the same teammates he represented Scotland age grades with:
“You get a close bond with people when you play age grade rugby with them. When you go away to the junior world cup, you’re away for a month with people, so you get a nice close bond with everyone and you just kind of know the way that they think and the way that they’re going to act on the pitch. So yeah, it does really help.”
“I remember coming in here [to the Edinburgh squad] for my first year and quite a lot of the boys I’d played under 20s with were here. And that just made it a really easy transition.”
Pierre Schoeman – ever quick to inject some humour into a situation, the prop took it upon himself to enlighten us as to how the Edinburgh scrum really works:
“Well, WP does all the scrumming so I just hang on. If WP goes forward I just hang on to Stuey [Stuart McInally] and get the penalty for the whole squad.”