Edinburgh’s New Boys Excel

Edinburgh’s return to their home-ground of BT Murrayfield on Friday highlighted the performance of new signings, returning fan-favourites and a determined forward back from injury. All of them helped to secure the capital side’s first home win of the season. Erin McRitchie takes an in-depth look.

The squad in training before the clash against Connacht (Photo: Edinburgh Rugby twitter)

Luke Hamilton

Less than a year ago, he was somewhat of an unknown prospect within Scottish Rugby. However, Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend recognised his work rate and talents, choosing to name him in his Scotland squad for the Autumn Tests of 2017.

Thus, it was a welcome announcement when Richard Cockerill signed the young forward to his Edinburgh squad for the year – in theory this was Hamilton’s year to prove himself with the capital side, and ensure he is kept within Scotland team contention.

He certainly doesn’t seem to be wasting such an opportunity. His performance in the game against Connacht on Friday night suggested that the forward did not allow any of the pressure of it being the first home game of the season get to him.

Prime observations of Hamilton’s style of play is that he is unafraid to drop back, to rely upon his fellow forwards to control the breakdown whilst he provides extra strength to the last line of defence.

His communication skills are also key. The clearest example of this played out after 46 minutes played in Friday night’s game – there was a break in play, and once the forwards had discussed, I assume tactics, Hamilton made his way across to pass on the message to a number of the backs.

This is exactly what Edinburgh needs – a perfect cohesion between forwards and backs provided by constant communication, both on the field and off.

Pierre Schoeman

Well, you would be hard-tasked to find one single yard of BT Murrayfield that Pierre Schoeman did not stamp his name on. The prop was ever present, especially at the breakdown – continually presenting cover for Pyrgos to get the ball out, but also presenting himself as an option.

In being an option, Schoeman proved himself as a fearless ball carrier, with no hesitation to carry the ball into contact. In the Connacht ranks, there are many skilled tacklers and defenders to come up against, but Schoeman seemed to gain yards regardless of the tackler he found himself confronted with.

His pressure in the scrum was also apparent, predominantly during the first half, and merely adds to the options that Richard Cockerill is awarded with in the position of prop – for that list also includes: Murray McCallum, Simon Berghan, Allan Dell, Darryl Marfo, Rory Sutherland, Pietro Ceccarelli and WP Nel.

Ultimately, Schoeman seems to hold no fear of the rough and tumble of rough games or hard-fought wins. These qualities can become definitive to a squad, if they have a forward who is so capable in his abilities, but also has those players around him who can recognise it and utilise it as well. So, long may it continue.

Henry Pyrgos

There was some understandable pressure on Pyrgos’ shoulders coming in to this season as somewhat of a replacement for fan-favourite Sam Hidalgo-Clyne. He seems to have taken it in his stride, however.

Pyrgos provided quick and clean ball from the breakdown, identifying key ball carriers. He also has a significant ability to back his own ability and quick-thinking nature – for example, he knows when to hold back, when to pick off the key carriers and also when the option to take it himself is best utilised.

However, one thing that was evident throughout the Connacht game was that Pyrgos does not excel in game management in the same way that Simon Hickey does. This can be solved relatively easily – Cockerill must identify a strong partnership between Pyrgos and one of his fly half’s.

A strong partnership between these two positions will allow Pyrgos to focus on provision of ball whilst players the likes of Jaco van der Walt and Hickey control the management side of the half-back game.

Juan Pablo Socino

Socino burst on to the Edinburgh scene during the first pre-season game with undeniable flair and confidence. He seems to create a spark whenever he is on the ball, and even when he is not – when the backs are in position for a scrum, for example – he seems to be chomping at the bit to be back on it.

Unfortunately, he has only had time off of the bench so far, so as of yet we do not know the true extent of his talents. So, if afforded the opportunity, we need to see Socino establish partnerships with the other backs and continue with his own style of finesse.

Simon Hickey

It was heartbreak for the new half-back – who spoke just a couple of days before the game about his excitement at getting the opportunity to run out at the home of Scottish Rugby for this first time – as he had to pull out of the match day 23 at the last-minute due to illness.

So, unfortunately for Edinburgh fans, and for Hickey himself, they will have to wait another couple of weeks for Hickey to step on to the hallowed home turf and take the game under his control.

For the meantime, on Friday night Van der Walt took the position, however his style slightly altered the execution of play. A prime example of his effect on the game is that, on a number of occasions, Van der Walt favoured kicking to touch, for the lineout, rather than the three-point option of kicking for the sticks.

Edinburgh made it through however, and the situation at least afforded Cockerill the opportunity to try out another halfback partnership – so it may be helpful moving forward as it adds another line-up option to his game plans.

(From left to right) Allan Dell, Matt Scott and Magnus Bradbury after the win (Photo: Edinburgh Rugby twitter)

Returning Faces

The new boys weren’t the only ones grabbing the headlines on Friday night though, as a couple of faces made their return to BT Murrayfield and the Edinburgh home fold. Matt Scott was named in the starting fifteen, and so this marked the first time in 859 days he would run out at the Scottish stadium for the capital outfit, after his spell down south with Gloucester.

There was no lacking in confidence from the centre going in to the contact – he was, at times, playing with the team as though he had never been away. The home crowd was definitely happy to see him back, as they cheered his breaks throughout the match.

Scott also, on many an occasion, supported young fullback Blair Kinghorn by providing him with a steady supporting line. It is more than apparent then, that the centre has by no means allowed his pace or his instincts to falter. So, Edinburgh fans will be hoping long may these performances continue from Scott.

Scott was not the only comeback man, as young forward Magnus Bradbury also made his presence felt having returned from injury. And he was most certainly back with a vengeance – harsh into contact with ball, and his tackles were as brutal and effective as ever.

With all the new names that have come in to the squad in the forwards division – including Luke Hamilton and John Barclay – it seems that Bradbury was determined to guarantee that his performance was not missed by Cockerill, and so his name remains in contention for the match day line-up.

The fact that a number of these new signings, and returning faces, are fitting in to the squad in such a seamless manner already, ensures that injuries or dips in performance will not be able to hinder Cockerill’s side. With this depth on their side, and the squad continually pushing themselves to improve, it is safe to say that the future looks relatively bright for this Edinburgh side.

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