EDINBURGH forwards coach Stevie Lawrie believes it would have been “a crying shame” if his team’s 1872 Cup matches against Glasgow had gone ahead in front of empty stands, and is now very optimistic that they can be played before a sizeable crowd. Reacting to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that spectators will now be able to return to sport after a three-week ban because of Covid concerns, Lawrie also said his team would now go all out to attract a capacity audience to their next home game, against Brive a week on Friday in the Challenge Cup.

Both of the festive derbies - due to be played at Scotstoun on 27 December then at BT Murrayfield six days later - had to be postponed after a significant number of positive Covid tests within the Glasgow squad. The restrictions in place meant that, if they had been played then, they would have effectively gone ahead without spectators. Rearranged dates have yet to be announced for the matches, but the general easing of restrictions nationwide has led Lawrie to hope that when they do take place, they can again be the showpiece occasions they have become in recent seasons.

“I would hope that with the First Minister’s announcement we’re starting to move to full crowds for a long period and those games can get played [in front of fans],” Lawrie said yesterday. “It would have been a crying shame if they had been played behind closed doors, given the buzz and anticipation.

“Having been involved in them last year, there’s not that same feel [without crowds]. So I hope we can get this Covid situation under control and we can have fans, because the buzz is just massive. 

“I think they’re becoming iconic games. One of the reasons I got back into coaching professionally was to be involved in those games - I was sick of watching them in the pub and being jealous of the guys doing well.

“We’ve got Brive next weekend, so we can put in a wee call to arms for the crowds to come out and try and fill the DAM Health. So that’s exciting. The players just thrive off that vibe, so hopefully we can get it full for next weekend.”  

According to the coach, Edinburgh have a clean Covid bill of health as they prepare for their away game against London Irish in the Challenge Cup on Saturday, which means that Henry Pyrgos, Luke Crosbie and Darcy Graham should all be available for selection after missing out on the 34-10 win against Cardiff at the weekend. However, there is a doubt over Stuart McInally, who was taken off at half-time in that game after he picked up a neck/shoulder strain. 

“He is undergoing a bit of an assessment at the minute,” Lawrie said of the hooker. “So we might just need to wait a wee bit longer on his availability.”

That bonus-point victory over Cardiff took Edinburgh to the top of the URC table and again highlighted the radical change in the team’s style of play since Mike Blair took over in the close season. In common with the head coach, Lawrie insisted there was still a long way to go in the team’s transformation, but he also accepted that there were aspects of their performances that had been extremely pleasing. 

“It’s been a great start,” he added. “We’ve played well and we’ve picked up the points. 

“I think probably what’s most pleasing is we’ve picked up a few really important bonus points along the way that have allowed us to get a wee bit of distance between teams that have maybe just picked up the four. The style of play we’ve adopted has lent itself to that, because bonus points are really important in terms of the league position.

“We didn’t set any major targets: we just got the guys working hard and tried to make the transition as seamless as possible, and we’ve done well in terms of our start. But it is very much just a start. We’re yet to play an Irish province, and we need to make sure we carry on in the vein we have started.”

“We’re pleased. We’re just going to try and kick on and keep doing what we’re doing.”