THE dog strollers on the Water of Leith Walkway next to Murrayfield must have wondered what on earth was going on earlier today [Thursday], when the roar of a raucous sports crowd interrupted the tranquility of a frosty December morning. As it happens, it wasn’t a bizarrely scheduled match at the nearby Hive Stadium they could hear but an artificial noise being pumped out of the venue’s PA system aimed at replicating the atmosphere Edinburgh are likely to encounter in their European Challenge Cup opener against Clermont at Stade Marcel-Michelin tomorrow [Friday] night.
“We had a walk through and a bit of a captain’s run this morning so it was good just to chuck that on in the build-up to the game,” explained assistant coach Rob Chrystie. “We know it is going to be noisy. If you have been to Clermont [you know that]. So, it is just something a bit different.
“Players quite like it, and it gets them used to communicating nice and loudly which is something they are going to have to do. It is just a good way of building up towards the game, I think.”
“You go across to France, it is going to be noisy. The atmosphere is just a little bit more hostile, I suppose,” he added. “But the flip side of that is if we can impose our game on them and put them under pressure they can turn on their own teams, so that’s something we will be aiming to do, especially earlier on in the match.
“We are going to have to start strongly because we are expecting them to be a really strong side, so it is going to be about whether we can start strong, stay in the game, ride it out and take our chances.”
It is safe to say that stand-off Cammy Scott is one of the players who this artificially generated atmosphere was aimed at, as he prepared to make his first competitive start for Edinburgh in the key decision-making No 10 slot this weekend (his only other start for the club being at 15 against Dragons in round one of this year’s URC).
“Cammy came through Boroughmuir originally, then went to Watson’s College, then he picked up an injury where he missed pretty much a year, but came back and played Scotland under-20 at 10 and 12, and came through Super6 at Southern Knights before finally finding himself at Edinburgh,” explained Chrystie.
“He’s not necessarily been at the forefront, but I think that has built a massive amount of resilience in him and he’s an excellent pro.
“He spends a lot of time on his own individual game but also understanding how the team wants to play and wants to function. Now he’s getting to become a bit of leader there as well, and I think he understands that if he wants to get to get to where he wants to get to, he’s going to have to be a player that can function as a lynchpin in the team to put other players away. I think he’s beginning to do that well.
“It’s exciting for Cammy,” Chrystie continued. “He’s done really well throughout pre-season. He played against Connacht at home here [in a pre-season match] in the first half and I thought he did really well.
“He’s a player who’s had to work really hard to get to where he’s got to. It’s not been given to him easily but he keeps turning it around and pushing on. He works extremely hard on his game, he’s prepared for what he needs to do and he’ll hopefully lead the team well. It’s going to be exciting to see him go.”
Chrystie clearly thinks highly of Scott – with whom he worked at both Southern Knights and in the Edinburgh academy before they both became permanent members of the senior playing and coaching staff last summer – but recognises that there will be bumps in the road.
“You’ve got to allow them to make mistakes in that position [stand-off] because that’s how they learn best,” said the former Scotland A scrum-half. “And he’s not scared to do that, he’s not scared to take the ball to the line. I also think his defence is a major strength – it is something he works hard on and he is really tough and resilient in that area.
“He’s very aware of the opportunity he’s got this weekend, and he’s really excited about it which is great to see.”
The faith the Edinburgh coaching team have in Scott was demonstrated at the start of last month by the decision to allow Charlie Savala to join Northampton Saints on loan, just a few weeks before Blair Kinghorn – who was seen as an out-and-out stand-off just a year ago – left for Toulouse. That left Scott and Ben Healy, who had played every minute of every game so far this season up until this weekend, as the only two regular stand-offs on full-time contracts.
“You’ve got Tim Swiel (on a short-term deal as World Cup cover and playing full-back this weekend), who’s played a lot at 10, and James Lang’s played a lot there for Quins and slotted in there for Edinburgh a couple of times,” said Chrystie.
“I think we’re pretty comfortable there actually in relation to our squad depth. We’ve got players who can play multiple positions and I think the squad matrix is pretty strong.”
Meanwhile, scrum-half Ali Price is listed as unavailable due to a leg injury [understood to be a dead-leg] but is not expected to be out for long.
“He’s just picked up a little knock. It’s nothing to be too concerned about,” said Chrystie. “We’ll just have to see how he turns around after this weekend. Ben [Vellacott] starts and it gives Chico [Charlie Shiel] another good opportunity off the bench. He’s looking sharp and we’re lucky we’ve got such good quality at scrum-half.”
Chrystie also rejected the suggestion that the Edinburgh team selection for this match – which sees senior players Pierre Schoeman, WP Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie and Healy rested – is indicative of Europe’s second tier club competition is not being given the same priority as the URC.
“I would describe this as a team line-up that’s still got 10 internationals in it, British Lions and players that are hungry to put down a marker leading into some exciting times over Christmas,” he reasoned.
“Some players need some rest, other guys need opportunities. You just have to look at the centre combination of Chris Dean and Mark Bennett, they’re champing at the bit to put a marker down to get back into that starting XV.”