Our Season with Edinburgh Rugby: The Champions Cup

As the home of Edinburgh Rugby, BT Murrayfield staged three European Champions Cup pool games and one quarter final encounter this 2018/19 season. Having been there for every home fixture, Erin McRitchie looks back at some of her standout moments from covering Edinburgh’s European journey.

Edinburgh’s campaign in the prestigious Champions Cup competition saw them advance all the way to the quarter finals. (Photo: Edinburgh Rugby twitter)

Favourite moment from each match-up

Stunning two French Top 14 sides at Murrayfield – Toulon in October and then Montpellier in January to secure the home quarter final – is no mean feat, and it also makes it surprisingly hard not to crack a disbelieving and stunned smile in the press box.

That’s not to say that the performances put in by Edinburgh away from home were any less impressive. In terms of their match-ups with Toulon, the capital side were on fine try-scoring form when they took to the field of Stade Mayol. Darcy Graham claimed the spotlight early on in the match when he took a pass from flanker Jamie Ritchie on the wing and barrelled his way past Mathieu Smaili to score in the corner.

Not to be outdone, Bill Mata made a well-timed break having received the ball from Blair Kinghorn and in a staggering display of offloading ability from the Fijiian forward, Mata passed the ball off – one-handed I might add – to James Johnstone for whom it seemed all too easy to carve through the Toulon defence.

Edinburgh’s trip to Kingston Park was slightly less explosive, though Duhan Van Der Merwe seemed to have disregarded that memo, as the South African soared down the wing in the closing minutes of the game to not only seal his side’s convincing win – their first away from home of the season – but also to put them in serious contention for the European quarter finals.

Meanwhile, going back to the Montpellier encounters – both of which were hard fought affairs, producing relatively close results – Edinburgh’s home performance against the French giants was ruled over by Jaco Van Der Walt. The authoritative fly half was at his goal-kicking best – a factor which proved vital in enabling the home side to secure the influential victory.

Standout game

In terms of mindset, the standout game of Edinburgh’s Champions Cup campaign was the opening fixture against Montpellier in France. They may not have secured victory in that match – the French side came out on top 21-15 – but they ensured a statement had been made. The statement being that Edinburgh, under Cockerill, were determined to continue a regeneration and continue to prove themselves in the domestic and European leagues.

By the beginning of the 2018/19 season, the newly developed mindset of Cockerill’s Edinburgh truly seemed to have taken hold, with players and fans alike coming to realise that the club could achieve more than they seemed to have settled for in previous seasons.

The opposition

Edinburgh found themselves in a group stage pool five which included Toulon, Montpellier and Newcastle Falcons – all very different clubs, with different intentions and purposes in this year’s championship campaign. One thing was distinctly similar, however, and that was that each side had key players who were detrimental to their game plan.

The Falcons utilised unearthed gem Adam Radwan on the wing, Toulon’s midfield excelled under the leadership of captain Mathieu Bastareaud, and Montpellier unleashed the brawn of the Du Plessis brothers – Jannie and Bismarck – and the finesse of François Steyn.

Whilst each side had their weaknesses and insecurities, they certainly posed to be a high calibre opposition for Edinburgh to find themselves up against, and ultimately, for Edinburgh to test their new found direction of play against.

Cockerill has frequently said that Edinburgh will not be revitalised overnight, understandably so, however, coming up against such European competition will certainly have helped the Scottish side to better understand both their own game, and what is required to compete at high levels.

Given the calibre of their opposition, the delight of having reached the quarter final was clear to see from the players. (Photo: Edinburgh Rugby twitter)

Quarter final

It certainly was never going to be an easy task for Cockerill’s men, after all, Munster have become somewhat masters of the quarter final in recent times. However, in some way I believe that the game was about something deeper than the performance of the players or their advancement as a team in the tournament.

It was about the prestige of returning high-level European rugby to BT Murrayfield. It was about putting on a show for a crowd greater than any ever gathered in the Scottish stadium for a European knock-out match. It was about showing that this team was going somewhere.

On a rather more personal note, it was an interesting atmosphere to witness from the press box. There was a distinct difference between this game and any other which I had reported on for the season thus far. For one thing – you could play quite the game of spot the ex-player turned pundit.

Edinburgh were hungry, but Munster were final experienced. It may not have been a full-time score in the host’s favour, but it was a game performance which promised more. It was a game which said all that it needed to about Edinburgh’s intentions for the future.

It was a game that I walked away from feeling privileged to have had the opportunity to report on. To think, in the future, I can say my first quarter final to have reported on was between Edinburgh and Munster at BT Murrayfield – that has a rather nice ring to it in my mind.

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