Our Season with Edinburgh Rugby: The PRO14

The majority of Edinburgh’s home games this season have been Pro14 fixtures, and so in this penultimate piece of this series,  Erin McRitchie looks at some of her favourite moments from each encounter, her standout game, and discusses how important Scotland academy produced players have been to Edinburgh’s season.

The Pro14 fixtures have produced some truly interesting and entertaining matches at BT Murrayfield this season. (Photo: Edinburgh Rugby twitter)

Standout moments from each home game

Connacht – In this, the first home game of the season, it was an unexpected start for Jaco Van Der Walt – given the form before then of Simon Hickey – at stand-off which was the most talked-about element of the game as the South African’s style of play is different to that of his kiwi counterpart. Van Der Walt executed a comfortable game, however, and looking back, this match could be identified as the turning point of selection in his favour.

Benetton – The emerging fact from Edinburgh’s scraped win against this Italian outfit was that the close final score line showed the capital side that they cannot take the threat of any team in the Pro14 league lightly, as every side has improved upon their game in the past couple of seasons, especially since the introduction of two South African sides.

Toyota Cheetahs – An integral part of Edinburgh’s game plan this season has most definitely been the importance and reliance they place upon their forwards, this game certainly demonstrated the dominance of the scrummaging men as three out of the four Edinburgh tries scored that night were from the work of the forwards, with Jamie Ritchie crossing the line for the last score – to secure the bonus point – from the set piece.

Scarlets – Pierre Schoeman proved he was quickly cementing himself as an Edinburgh fan favourite as upon scoring his second Edinburgh try at BT Murrayfield, the South African was awarded with a stadium shout of: “Shooooe.” This score also demonstrated that Cockerill’s side were not shy to deploy the inch by inch, slow paced phase tactic when camped on the opposition line.

Glasgow Warriors – It was certainly a night for the backs as Edinburgh’s Duhan Van Der Merwe twice intercepted Adam Hastings’ pass on the wing to run in for two tries. Whilst in Glasgow colours, George Horne snuck a chip kick over the home defence only for brother Pete to collect the ball over the line and crash done for a try of his own. Ultimately it was Edinburgh who came out on top in what was their ninth home win in a row.

Southern Kings – Scoring three tries within 10 is impressive, but scoring the bonus point try before half time when your opposition are still pointless on the scoreboard is rare – this was the situation Edinburgh found themselves in against Kings. The night was topped off by prop Simon Berghan scoring his first ever career try and Cameron Fenton – who was only meant to be a reserve that night – closing the night’s scoring with Edinburgh’s sixth try. Not a bad night at the office.

Dragons – A standout combination this season has been the partnership developed between Chris Dean and James Johnstone in the centre field – the two players seem to have an inexplicable ability to find, and utilise, clear lines. Meanwhile, Van Der Merwe has continued with his tackle evading abilities as this particular match saw him commando roll out of a tackle only to get back to his feet to continue his run down the wing to score.

Cardiff Blues – It is not often that a forward makes a break from the set piece which is so striking a pace and line that it has you momentarily confusing them for a back – but Dave Cherry certainly managed it against the Blues. However, the Welsh outfit came back from 14-0 down to win and so it became clear that Edinburgh need to start questioning their ability to remain dominant in the second half, specifically the final quarter, of games.

Leinster – The forwards once again demonstrated their importance on this night against the Irish province as WP Nel scored Edinburgh’s first try – the product of recycling the ball through the slow punishing phases – and Pierre Schoeman won a penalty at the scrum which was enough for referee Ben Whitehouse to award the home side a penalty try. Whilst it may not have been the cleanest of wins, or the prettiest, the win was only Leinster’s third defeat of the season at that point, as the Irish province had only been topped by Scarlets and Munster.

Ulster – This match, and it’s result, will not quite have been the way Edinburgh would have envisioned ending their season’s home games, but there was slight consolation when John Barclay made a break to score – the points had no real effect on the overall scoreline, but it was a rather welcome sight to see Barclay back in fighting form, and at BT Murrayfield no less.

This season has seen some young talent start to stake their claim for selection in Cockerill’s Edinburgh squad. (Photo: Edinburgh Rugby twitter)

Standout game – Young ones rule the Kings game

Whilst the internationally capped contingent of Edinburgh’s squad were away with Scotland, during the autumn international window, the club side were left to fend for themselves by drafting in younger, more academy based personnel. It certainly didn’t hinder their results.

To the contrary in fact, as against the Southern Kings at BT Murrayfield, the young up-and-comers of Edinburgh’s squad showed that when the experienced names are away, they still have the capabilities to play.

Within ten minutes, the home side had scored three tries. Darcy Graham, the pocket rocket on the wing with his blistering pace, had laid claim to two of the three scores as he went over the whitewash on both the near and far wings.

The root of the play which allowed Graham to receive the ball from Jamie Ritchie on the wing, was a break which was originally made by promising second row prospect Callum Hunter Hill. The former Scotland Under 20s captain has certainly been anything but shy of the odd line break and seems confident in both the set piece and in the attacking line with ball in hand.

Cameron Fenton was another who didn’t seem to want to pass up such a fortuitous opportunity either as the hooker who had been bumped to the bench from the reserves – due to an illness preventing Dave Cherry from starting – was across the line for a try just five minutes after stepping on to the pitch.

His opportunity came from receiving the pass from Charlie Shiel who had spotted the young front row running a support line having himself taken a pass from back row Ally Miller, who was the one to make the original break.

Ultimately, it was an interesting match to witness first hand, as it was clear to see that Edinburgh do possess a certain level of talent in their squad depth. The fact that it was also a relatively free-flowing game also meant that I was able to focus on individual players and really distinguish who the ones to watch are.

Impact of Scotland academy players

A number of the aforementioned ones to watch, are products of the acclaimed Scottish Rugby academy. Every one of them has experienced the age grade set up, and spent their time in the developmental realms of Edinburgh.

This season, these players have truly come to the forefront and begun to inflict their dominance upon games. Magnus Bradbury, Luke Crosbie, Jamie Ritchie and Blair Kinghorn all continued the form which they enjoyed last season, ensuring that their names have been included in international selection and mandating that they have become integral figures in Cockerill’s match day sides.

Meanwhile Callum Hunter Hill, Jamie Hodgson, Ally Miller and Charlie Shiel have demonstrated real potential in their positions. Hunter Hill has started to develop authority at the set piece, Hodgson has shown capability at the breakdown, Miller has utilised strong ball carrying ability and Shiel has proved to be confident and precise at ball provision from the scrum half position.

With all of this in mind, it isn’t hard to imagine that at some time – in the not so distant future, I would imagine – I will be sitting in that press box at BT Murrayfield reporting on an Edinburgh game with the majority, if not all, of these players either in the starting 15 or the wider matchday 23.

Considering this is the situation that rugby in Scotland finds itself in – as the situation is very much the same with a number of players at Glasgow Warriors – now is as good a time as ever to start really engaging with the academy set up in Scotland, for in their ranks could be festering future Edinburgh or Glasgow break out stars.

If I have been able to convince you even just the smallest bit, then you are in luck as Scotland Under 20s will take part in the Under 20s World Championships in Argentina, and the competition kicks off in Argentina at the start of June, with most, if not all games, expected to be broadcast on World Rugby media platforms.

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