As the curtain falls on the 2016/17 season, most at Edinburgh Rugby will be filing the goings on of the last nine months into a cupboard somewhere, locking and throwing away the key…as they look forward to the Richard Cockerill era.
We’re going to look back at the season, and where it all seemed to go wrong once more for the Capital side, who have been through two head coaches and without some of their top talent for much of the campaign.
Rewind to the beginning of the season, when the men in black and red were still under the guidance of pragmatic South African Alan Solomons, recently given a new contract extension.
They suffered two pre-season defeats to Sale Sharks and Newcastle Falcons, which became all the more alarming when Edinburgh lost to Cardiff Blues in their Pro12 opener.
A win over Scarlets was one of only seven home wins all season – but as inconsistency plagued their campaign – three defeats then followed.
Worryingly, there was little for fans to get behind in the opening half-dozen games, with Solomons’ Edinburgh deploying a kick-based game that brought little reward.
The South African former Ulster and Northampton boss then packed up his desk, and headed for the exit, with Duncan Hodge appointed to the top job until the season’s end.
The change of coach seemed to bring a change in the club’s fortunes, as they recorded three wins on the bounce (over Treviso, Timisoara Saracens and Harlequins) to all-but ensure Challenge Cup quarter-final qualification.
A loss to Zebre was a low point in the campaign, but was almost immediately followed by the win over Stade Francais at BT Murrayfield – that inconsistency was another blight on the season that all will be keen to banish moving forward.
Hodge’s men completed European doubles over the Romanian minnows Timisoara and Quins in impressive fashion, before the most alarming of losing runs halted any signs of progress: nine games, with not a win in sight.
The manner of the defeat in the Challenge Cup last eight was startling – La Rochelle dismantled an Edinburgh pack robbed of Messrs Dickinson and Nel for much of the campaign, and despite Hamish Watson’s sterling efforts and a second half fightback, they were unable to recover.
By this point, all talk had drifted to next season – Richard Cockerill, the gnarly former England hooker, was to arrive as head coach – with Hodge reverting to his former guise as backs supremo, while Mark Bennett was confirmed as moving along the M8 from Glasgow to bolster the midfield.
The ex-Scotland stand-off signed off his term as interim head coach with two wins, a 10-minute comeback of Manchester United-esque proportions saw them scrape a win over Dragons before a comprehensive two-try win over Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun nearly saw the former ‘Gunners’ retain the 1872 Cup, with only two points splitting the sides.
A ninth place finish in the league is what Edinburgh fans have come to expect, while they flirted with European knock-out rugby once more.
Despite the overall disappointment, there have been some plus-points this campaign. Watson has been the jewel in Edinburgh’s crown, and was perhaps unlucky to miss out on a spot on the British and Irish Lions trip to New Zealand, but has established himself ahead of John Hardie as the club’s premier openside.
The youngsters have stepped up to the plate, too – Murray McCallum will be a much better prop for his time at the coalface, Jamie Ritchie has impressed at both six and seven, George Turner is clearly highly-rated and has earned a Scotland touring place alongside Magnus Bradbury, a cornerstone of the pack until his own injury misfortune, while Ben Toolis tackled everything that moved throughout the season and was rewarded with a place in the Pro12 Dream Team.
Behind the pack, Chris Dean showed promise at both inside and outside centre, while Blair Kinghorn has played nearly 40 professional games despite only turning 20 in January and Damien Hoyland showed signs that he is a top-class finisher…he just needs the ball!
Former Crusaders star Robbie Freuan is set to sign from Bath, and 21-year-old South African wing Duhan Van Der Merwe has also signed up from Montpellier. Bennett’s ACL injury will keep him out for most of the season, but Edinburgh will be confident of moving forward under Cockerill.
Three of Scottish rugby’s young prospects in Callum Hunter-Hill (lock), Hugh Fraser (scrum-half) and Tom Galbraith (standoff/centre/fullback) have graduated from the academy into full-time professional deals with Edinburgh, following some time at London Scottish (and Glasgow in Hunter-Hill’s case).
Hardie and Nel were both expected to have good seasons and head for pastures new, but injury perhaps curtailed their prospects. Both have penned new deals, and that can only be an encouraging sign as the capital side look to earn a top-six place next season.
So where will Edinburgh play next season? Myreside was trialled as “home” for six games but saw only two wins – and one of those came against the Romanian outfit; the other the dramatic win over the Dragons.
The jury is out on whether that worked and there is a long way to go before the atmosphere rivals Scotstoun, but it certainly highlighted that a smaller ground is needed to generate an atmosphere and, the club will hope, also start following in the off-field footsteps of their rivals from along the M8.