Edinburgh Rugby star Hamish Watson rues 1872 Cup switch to Murrayfield
Having won nine and drawn one of the 10 competitive matches they’ve played at the DAM Health Stadium it’s perhaps not surprising that the Edinburgh players have expressed a little reluctance about reverting to BT Murrayfield for the match against Glasgow Warriors next month.
Around 16,000 tickets have already been sold for the clubs’ final game of the regular URC season and which will decide whether one or both Scottish clubs make the play-offs and who they’ll meet in the last eight.
European places will also be on the line as the May 21 showdown will settle the outcome of the Scottish-Italian Shield, the winners of which will qualify for the elite Heineken Champions Cup.
And then there’s the not inconsiderable fact the game doubles up as the second leg of the 1872 Cup, with Glasgow leading 30-17 from the first leg at Scotstoun.
In short, it’s a huge occasion and it’s not surprising that the Scottish Rugby Union has decided to move it from the DAM Health (capacity: 7,778) to Murrayfield (capacity: 67,144).
It means that every supporter who wants to will be able to attend. It will also see a lot more money pouring into the SRU coffers and, while that will keep the smile on Mark Dodson’s face, Hamish Watson wonders if it would have been better to take the financial hit in order for Edinburgh to retain home advantage.
Mike Blair, their coach, noted this week how much the players and supporters enjoy the claustrophobic nature of the DAM Health and the results speak for themselves.
It’s a far cry from the bad old days when Edinburgh were playing at Murrayfield and around 5,000 fans were rattling around the cavernous arena.
Watson recalls opposition players positively relishing the experience.
“I remember before and after games you would get people taking pictures of the ground,” said the Edinburgh flanker. “It was a bit of an occasion for them to play Edinburgh at Murrayfield in front of 5,000. While coming here [to the DAM Health] it feels like a proper club atmosphere.
“We were all saying it is a shame we don't have Glasgow here to be honest because we are playing them inside Murrayfield. It is great for the SRU because we want to get as many fans in as possible but we would have loved to have taken the hit and yeah, turn it down.”
He added: “We all know the record we have here. We have drawn one of those games and won the other six or seven not including the European stuff so we are all aware of our record and the fans are as well.
“It is a very tough place to come to and when you speak to a few teams they haven't liked the experience here.”
The Stormers are thus far the only visiting team to leave the DAM Health unbeaten in a competitive fixture following their 20-20 draw back in early October. But Zebre came mighty close to causing an upset on Friday night when Edinburgh needed a late penalty from Jaco van der Walt to win 29-26.
The URC’s bottom side led in both halves against hosts who had Marshall Sykes sent off early in the second period.
It’s Ulster up next for Edinburgh, with Dan McFarland’s side visiting on Saturday night in what is likely to be the first sell-out at the DAM Health.
Ulster’s form has dipped a little of late and their defeat by Munster last weekend saw them drop from second to fifth in the URC with two rounds left. Edinburgh are two points behind in seventh place but both clubs still have designs on the top four which would guarantee a home tie in the play-off quarter-finals.
Watson rates Ulster alongside the league’s biggest threats and knows an improved performance will be required from Edinburgh.
“They are definitely up there,” he said. “We had a few tough games at the start of the year against the South African teams as well. These were really physical encounters and against Ulster it will be very similar.
“They are a very good team with a good set piece and they are big physical boys so we will have to front up. We have to be a lot better than we were at the weekend if we want to keep our top four hopes alive. We will have to put a very good team out on the field and really front up.
“There are four points between eighth and second so it is all pretty close and then Scarlets are ninth and if they win their two games and somebody slips up they might get in there as well.
“It is really tough and every game is like a mini final for us which is exciting. It’s what the business end of the tournament is all about and every game is like a play-off game. It is good for the players who haven't experienced that before and it is great for us Edinburgh boys that have been here a while. We haven't been in this position for a long time and it is really exciting stuff for all of us.
“If we win our two games we have a very good chance of making the top four and if we win our two games we are definitely in the top eight so that is the challenge.”