Henry Pyrgos urges patience on Edinburgh’s steady ascent

The scrum-half is sure his team are improving but knows a lot of hard work lies hard

Henry Pyrgos in action for Edinburgh against Ospreys earlier this season. Image: David Gibson.

HENRY Pyrgos’s value to Edinburgh quickly became apparent after his move from Glasgow Warriors in the summer. If all goes to plan, that value will simply keep on increasing over the next few seasons.

The 29-year-old has established himself as his new team’s pre-eminent scrum-half by some distance, and he forms part of a highly effective half-back partnership whether the man outside him is Simon Hickey or Jaco van der Walt. Where he provides added, vital value, however, is his experience: while the Edinburgh squad as a whole has yet to find out what it takes to win a senior tournament, Pyrgos, having been over the course with Glasgow in what was then the PRO12, knows precisely what is required.

They say that the first trophy is always the hardest to win for any side, which is one reason ambitious clubs always look for players who have been there and done that. Richard Cockerill has won in England and Europe as a player and as a coach, but having that experience on the sidelines is not the same as having it on the field of play.

Edinburgh’s head coach has always insisted that his team’s transformation from under-achievers to serious contenders is a long-term process, and the fact that they have barely begun that transformation is one reason Cockerill likes to portray them as underdogs for high-pressure games such as the 1872 Cup encounters. Sooner or later, however, any side with aspirations of winning trophies has to accept the psychological burden of being favourites for big games, and if and when Edinburgh approach that stage, Pyrgos will have an increasingly central role to play.

For the time being, however, the scrum-half counsels caution. Glasgow went from also-rans to semi-finalists then finalists before eventually being crowned PRO12 champions in 2015, but although Edinburgh may appear to have embarked on a similar trajectory after reaching the quarter-finals last season, Pyrgos sees no reason to presume their path to the top should be identical.

“We’re on our own journey,” he said after last week’s 23-7 win over the Warriors at BT Murrayfield. “Glasgow went on their journey and eventually won the league, and are now at the top end of the league a lot. We want to be up there and we don’t know what that will look like, don’t know what the future is, but we’re working really hard, playing our way and doing as best we can. And we’re definitely going in the right direction.

“We’re developing, and Edinburgh had a really good season last year and we’re doing it again, but there’s a journey ahead for this club. We’re trying to grow, trying to build a really good squad and depth there.

“You look at where we are in the league and we’ve lost games we feel we should have done better in, so we’re not the finished article. We’re going well in Europe again, but we’ve still got two games coming up there. Things change very quickly in sport, we’re definitely improving week on week, we’re getting better and better and that’s the aim, we want to be challenging at the top end of the table in Europe and the league.

“We’ve played some good games, but as Cockers will say, that doesn’t mean much. At the end of the season we want to be up there. It’s a long process and we have to keep working hard week on week.”

Certainly, if Edinburgh are to get into the play-offs for a second season they will need quite a few results like last week’s, although ideally with a try bonus point thrown in as well. They are currently fifth in Conference B, and although the fact they are only four points behind third-placed Scarlets is a reason to be optimistic, the revival of Ulster this season under former Scotland assistant Dan McFarland has made the battle for a top-three slot considerably tougher.

Edinburgh have won all their home games and lost all their away matches in the league so far, and the latter part of that equation has to change very soon if they are to get back on terms with the teams above them. Their win at Newcastle in the Champions Cup a couple of weeks back was their most impressive result of the season so far, but while such an achievement will do their morale no harm, Pyrgos does not feel there is any big issue about how the team play on the road.

“We don’t focus on the away stuff. We’ve actually played really well in a lot of those games – against Ulster, lost at the death. I don’t think it’s an away form thing.

“Teams at home usually play really well and those have been tough games, a couple when we had a few boys away in the autumn stuff. But a big game at Newcastle, a tough game – it was good to go and win that.

“Scotstoun will be a completely different game, and we’ll have to play really well if we want to win that.”

About Stuart Bathgate 1407 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.