Edinburgh Rugby close in on first DAM Health Stadium sell-out but two players out for the season
Ulster are the visitors on Saturday night for a match which will go a long way to deciding the play-off shakedown in the United Rugby Championship.
With two rounds remaining of the regular season, the Irish side are fifth, two places and two points above Edinburgh. The top eight go into the play-offs but both sides have designs on a top-four finish which would grant them a home quarter-final tie.
Only terracing tickets behind each goal remain and the ground is expected to be filled to its 7,774 capacity.
“I’ve mentioned throughout the season how much the guys enjoy playing here,” said Blair. “The atmosphere that we generate and with the proximity of the fans to the ground it means they can feel all the hits and hear all the communication stuff. And it becomes a real part of the experience as well.
“Hopefully the results on the pitch and the type of rugby we’re trying to play helps keep people coming back too.”
Edinburgh have won nine and drawn one of the ten competitive matches they’ve played at the DAM Health but Ulster could pose the biggest threat to their unbeaten home record.
Dan McFarland’s side suffered a setback last Friday when they lost 24-17 at home to Munster but they have impressed this season, most notably in Europe where they beat both Clermont and Northampton home and away in the group stage of the Heineken Champions Cup, then defeated holders Toulouse in France in the first leg of their round of 16 tie before being edged out by a single point on aggregate in the return at Ravenhill.
Their URC form has also been solid and they were second in the standings before going down to Munster.
“We’re aware that Ulster are a really good side,” said Blair. “They beat Toulouse in France and that was a fully loaded Toulouse team. But at the same time we’re comfortable in what we’re trying to do. We know that if we put our best team on the pitch we can beat teams.”
Edinburgh toiled to overcome Zebre on Friday but still emerged with five points and are likely to bring back some of the big guns who missed the match against the URC’s bottom side.
Emiliano Boffelli, Stuart McInally, Grant Gilchrist and Magnus Bradbury are all expected to return and WP Nel is also available after serving a two-match ban.
The experienced tighthead’s return is timely because Edinburgh have confirmed that props Boan Venter and Luan de Bruin will miss the rest of the season. Both have undergone surgery after being injured in the Challenge Cup win over Pau earlier this month.
The Ulster game is likely to come a little too soon for winger Darcy Graham who is nursing a quad injury and Marshall Sykes is also expected to miss out following his red card against Zebre.
The lock’s shoulder made contact with the head of prop Danilo Fischetti at a ruck clearout and Sykes is likely to be suspended. “I don’t believe there was malice in it but it is what it is,” added Blair.
Edinburgh complete their league fixtures against Glasgow at BT Murrayfield on May 21 while Ulster round things off at home to the Sharks the night before. Whoever comes out on top on Saturday will be in the box seat for a top-four finish and Blair has urged his squad to seize the opportunity.
“We’d looked at the league table this morning – probably one of the earliest times that I’ve done that – just to show the tightness of the league and how the little things count,” said the coach. “It could be the difference between a home and away quarter-final.
“So we’re focusing on how close things are and us being in control of the controllables and making sure full effort is switched on. And if we get beat by a better team on the night then so be it. But we don’t want to look back and regret not being in the moment at all times.”