RICHARD Cockerill believes that Edinburgh’s new stadium can become a more intimidating venue than BT Murrayfield for teams to visit, and that it should be possible to sell it out every week once it is up and running at the start of next season.
The plan for Edinburgh to move out of the national stadium and into a purpose-built ground on the back pitches of Murrayfield took a significant step forwards on Monday with the announcement that a building warrant had been granted by the council. The original aim was for it to be operational around now, but delays have meant that Cockerill’s side will again play their home games on the international pitch this season. It has been a frustrating hold-up, but the head coach is confident that the new ground will play an important part in strengthening his team’s identity.
“We just want to build our own identity and have our own stadium as part of that,” he said. “It’s hit a few glitches in the last 12, 18 months – we’re glad that it’s passed.
“It’s nothing we can control from a performance point of view. We just get on with training and playing. But hopefully by the start of next season we’ll have a new home and we can start to sell our crowds and we can have our own colour scheme and look on the stadium.
“It’s what we need and it’s something that we need to build on. It’s great playing in the main stadium, but we can probably sell out seven, eight every week if we get it right, and we can build an atmosphere that’s a bit more hostile to come and play in.”
Edinburgh have proven capable of attracting big crowds for big games, but attendances dropped significantly towards the end of last season as their hopes of qualifying for the Champions Cup evaporated. Even so, Cockerill is sure that more consistent performances will help build the numbers back towards the desired level.
“I think if you average the season out we’d be averaging that seven, eight thousand,” he said of the 2018-19 campaign. “We’ve just got to keep developing our game. We had some big games last year against big teams that we won.
“In the end, was it a slightly disappointing season? Well, maybe so, because we didn’t reach play-offs in the league that we did the year before. But it was a different context because of Europe and getting to a quarter-final, and we played against and beat some very big teams last year.
“We lacked consistency across the season. We’ve got to get better at winning the games that we should win, and knock off some of the big teams when we get the chance.
“We’ve not got the biggest squad and we’ve not got the biggest budget, so to lose a whole forward pack and some [during the World Cup] is always going to be difficult for us. We’ve got some good lads left over and we’ve been working hard to start the season with a very competitive team that is hopefully going to pick up as many points as it can.
“I don’t think any team can honestly say they know exactly what it’s going to look like, because some teams aren’t missing many, some teams are missing a dozen or so – or more. So some parts of it are luck of the draw on the fixture list, and post-World Cup who’s resting, who has to rest, all those things. So it’s going to be an interesting dynamic and we’ve just got to manage and deal with what’s in front of us week to week.”
Having beaten London Scottish in their first pre-season match ten days ago, Edinburgh will conclude their competitive preparations for the new campaign when they welcome Ospreys to Murrayfield on Saturday. New signings Jamie Bhatti and Ruan Steenkamp will be involved, as will established names Duhan van der Merwe and Lewis Carmichael. Winger Van der Merwe had tonsillitis recently, while lock Carmichael had a knee operation at the turn of the year but has now completed his rehabilitation.
Of the other new signings, Mike Willemse is still out after being injured in a training camp against Scotland, Mesu Kunavula is recovering from a shoulder operation but is not too far away from being able to resume playing, and Eroni Sau is still waiting for a visa.