Edinburgh Rugby: Top spot beckons but Mike Blair knows that bigger tests await
The rejuvenation of Edinburgh under Mike Blair could hit an early milestone on Saturday when a home win over Cardiff would see them leapfrog Leinster at the top of the United Rugby Championship.
The sport is making a welcome comeback in Scotland after a Covid-enforced absence but its return is tempered by the absence of fans due to Scottish Government restrictions.
Edinburgh are unbeaten in competitive games at the DAM Health Stadium but they will have to try to defeat Cardiff without the backing of all but a handful of supporters.
The spread of the virus saw both 1872 Cup games against Glasgow postponed due to a number of cases in the Warriors squad and the Cardiff match is Edinburgh’s first since they defeated Saracens in London four weeks ago.
Several of Blair’s players were also affected by Covid but most are now available. The backline is bolstered by the return from injury of Henry Immelman, James Lang and Blair Kinghorn but Darcy Graham is missing. Immelman, the South African signed from Montpellier in the summer, impressed in the early part of the season before sustaining a wrist injury. He starts at full-back against Cardiff, with the wing berths filled by Emiliano Boffelli and Ramiro Moyano.
The Argentine pair have been exciting additions to the Edinburgh roster and Blair likes the look of the blend in his back three. Interestingly, the coach compares Moyano to Blair’s former Edinburgh team-mate Derrick Lee, the cultured former Scotland full-back who was capped 12 times at the turn of the century.
“Henry was really consistent for us before he picked up his wrist injury,” said Blair. “He got off to a really good start to the season and Emiliano has come in after the Rugby Championship.
“And I love Ramiro, he’s been great to work with. He reminds me of Derrick Lee. He doesn’t look like there’s much to him. He doesn’t look like he’s really good at handling, he doesn’t look really quick, but he makes good decisions and is in the right place at the right time. He has done really well with the opportunities he has had with us.”
Blair said the carrot of going top of the table is not one he has been dangling in front of his squad this week. The regular season has yet to reach its halfway point and the coach is aware that bigger tests lie ahead, including fixtures against all four Irish provinces.
“I want us to be driving our own performances and not necessarily thinking where that will put us in the league,” he said.
“If we continue to go the way we are going we are going to push teams in the top four. We have a tougher second half, or two-thirds of the league, but it is great we have some points on the board.”
Summer signing Glen Young could make his Edinburgh debut off the bench after recovering from injury.
Cardiff, who have selected Ian Botham’s grandson James at No 8, have triumphed in three of five URC matches this term but have not won away since a 29-28 victory over Scarlets in the Rainbow Cup last May. Their sole success in their last six visits to Scotland came at Murrayfield in February 2019.