Edinburgh’s history at Meggetland hints at good times

Meggetland. Edinburgh legend Alan Jacobsen, below
Meggetland. Edinburgh legend Alan Jacobsen, below
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An evening kick-off in 1997 and crowds throng to Meggetland to see Edinburgh Rugby take on the touring ACT Brumbies from Australia.

Despite a host of present and future Wallabies in the opposition ranks, Edinburgh acquit themselves well in losing by only a handful of points ... and even manage to introduce from off the bench a teenager destined to become a Scotland legend. That player, Allan Jacobsen, below, remembers the occasion well.

“There was a big crowd, a good atmosphere and, when it came time to make my Edinburgh debut, injuries meant it wasn’t in my usual position of prop but at hooker directly up against Jeremy Paul, who went on to play for Australia for years,” said Jacobsen.

“Mind you, they didn’t let me throw in at the line-out and gave the job to our scrum-half, Graeme Burns, instead.

“That was a time when Edinburgh’s only competitive matches were in the Heineken European Cup apart from a district championship where we played all over the city, from Goldenacre to Inverleith to Myreside.”

Seventeen years on and excluding a developing fixture against a touring Georgian representative side in 2008Edinburgh will return to Meggetland for a RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Ospreys (Friday, kick-off 7.35pm) after the switching the match from Murrayfield where the pitch continues to recover from a parasitic infection.

For one of Jacobsen’s international front row predecessors, it should have happened sooner and that match against the Brumbies ought to have cemented Edinburgh’s relationship with the home of Boroughmuir especially as, four years earlier, an outstanding Auckland side had been taken to the wire before edging home 27-21, the host XV featuring the original kilted Kiwi, Sean Lineen, having led by a point going into injury time.

“Everything was set-up for a permanent move,” says Norrie Rowan.

“Meggetland was council-owned land with room for development and that should have counted in our representative rugby team’s favour. Instead vested interest was allowed to take over and influential people refused to see Edinburgh settle at Boroughmuir. So much so that when ground development eventually took place the size was limited to around 3500.”

Rowan, a builder capped 13 times out of Boroughmuir, had been pressing for a 5000 capacity at a ground where he oversaw floodlighting installations and received tenders for under soil heating.

“Unfortunately Meggetland never achieved its full potential including under soil heating which would have been a major money-spinner for a £50,000 outlay and I often wonder if it had, would Edinburgh have built up to achieve crowds along the lines of the Irish provinces? That was the scale of the mis-management so far as I was concerned.”

One of a string of Boroughmuir internationalists, Rowan’s career coincided with a scheme driven by president Harry Rowlands assisted by David Small, the Tait brothers Tom and Ronnie, and others, to level the pitch and provide spectator accommodation.

“Meggetland was a bleak heath until Harry’s energy prevailed in the early ’70s and got things moving, but in many ways the pitch was our secret weapon,” added Rowan.

“The prevailing wind blew up the slope and opponents became flummoxed when we were able to stop them exploiting the terrain playing towards the railway end through kicking into the corner which contained the groundsman’s house.

“One match that stands out was a virtual league decider against Hawick during March, 1974 which was shown on television.

“At one point the Scotland lock Alan Tomes was heading for our line and I can still hear the voice of commentator Bill McLaren proclaiming the try when suddenly he was hit for six by a wee guy who looked like Dennis the Menace.

“In that moment the wider Scottish rugby community got its first real glimpse of the late, great Bruce Hay even though Hawick went on to win 25-9 and take the title.”

Boroughmuir High former pupil Jim Fleming, a World Cup semi-final referee, attended that match and recalled: “The press were accommodated in a touchline caravan which replaced an old metal hut with a pull-down front! Changed days and the original 3300 capacity of the new ground could be exceeded on Friday for the visit of Ospreys.”

Subsequent to that Hawick visit, touring teams from Argentina (Los Argentinos), South Africa (Johannesburg Pirates), Australia (Parramatta), New Zealand (Petone), Spain (Emerging XV), Germany (Hanover) and even Siberia (Krasnoyar) would arrive at Meggetland. Also a historic fixture took place against Llanelli in 1993. It was the first occasion the famous team had played in Scotland and Boroughmuir were geared up for the occasion which attracted another bumper crowd.

“The match finished with Boroughmuir pressing the Llanelli line but the referee blew the final whistle early because he miscalculated the score and thought a 31-31 draw would be appropriate – we lost 31-33,” recalled club historian, John Mackay.

Back then players and spectators would retire to a clubhouse which had been built by the players’ own hands in 1970.

Said former president Harry Pincott: “It became routine that Tuesday and Thursday training sessions would start with an hour’s graft as our members did the groundwork. There were Sunday shifts, too, as no effort was spared in keeping costs down.”

The building stood until recently when Boroughmuir moved into a new facility they are eager to share with other members of a sporting hub including Edinburgh Hockey, Boroughmuir Thistle Football Club, and St Andrew Boat Club. “A lot of work has gone into creating a community sports club,” says Bill Watson, chairperson and the second of the rugby section’s internationalists following on from ground-breaker Ken Ross.

“The rugby club are proud to he at the heart of Meggetland and look forward to welcoming both Edinburgh and Ospreys.”