INTERVIEW | Hugo Southwell: "I've been really impressed with Edinburgh."

As Parisian outfit Stade Francais visit BT Murrayfield this evening for the second time in as many seasons, there are perhaps fewer players who embody the Entente Cordiale between the two Gaelic nations than former Edinburgh full back, Hugo Southwell.

Having spent six successful seasons with Edinburgh before joining Stade in the summer of 2009, the former Scotland international – who earned 59 caps spanning a 14-year professional career – has his rugby boots firmly embedded in each club’s camp.

However, despite his split playing allegiances, there is no question over who Southwell is pulling for in tonight’s crucial European encounter. After six seasons in Scotland’s capital – a city he now permanently calls home – the former full back has been quietly impressed with the manner in which Edinburgh have adjusted to life under new Head Coach Richard Cockerill.

“I’ve been really impressed with Edinburgh and there is a real try scoring ability within the side,” said Southwell. “I think the team have bought into Richard Cockerill’s ruthless coaching and that has been the most impressive trait for me.

“I think they’ve scored around 200 points in the last 6 games. Yes, there’s been that Krasny Yar game in there, but at the same time they’ve faced some really good sides over the festive period. The team is winning games and they’ve got an edge to them, which is something Cockerill definitely brings.

“I think there’s a real strength and depth to the side as well. Gone are the days when your first XV aren’t playing and you’re thinking ‘we’re really struggling here.’ What we’re starting to see with Edinburgh are more consistent performances from fringe guys and young talent such as Blair Kinghorn and Darcy Graham.

“Add to that the experience of guys like Hamish Watson, who you feel like has been playing for about 10 years! There’s a lot players throughout the team who are seasoned internationals and playing at a seriously high level. There’s a great blend and balance throughout the team at the moment and it’s exciting to see.”

Much like Edinburgh’s rising star Kinghorn, Southwell arrived in Edinburgh in 2004 with plenty of raw talent and a penchant for executing a game changing play at just the right time. The full back developed his trade whilst progressing through Worcester’s academy – a club in which he gained some valuable, and life changing advice, from a former Scotland international.

“I was a young player at Worcester and I was there with Craig Chalmers, who was playing stand-off for the club at the time. I was just out of University and hadn’t really embraced professional rugby.

I hadn’t played as much as I would have liked in my first year and I had only stared six games. I spoke to Craig and he said: ‘you’ve got nothing to lose, why don’t you go on trial with Edinburgh?'

“So, I went on trial with Edinburgh under Frank Hadden, I was awarded a contract and the rest kicked off from there. We got to the Celtic Cup final in that first year – ultimately losing to Ulster in the final at Murrayfield – and then we also reached the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup. We were in a group with Toulouse and had beaten them, but then lost to them in the quarter finals.

“I remember beating Toulouse at Meadowbank in a Brendan Laney inspired game. So there was brilliant times when I first arrived in Scotland, and then to top it off with a Scotland cap following my first season was a dream come true.”

Whilst Southwell would earn his first of 59 international caps on the summer tour to Australia in 2004, it was his time spent in Edinburgh’s potent backline that the full back admits ‘will live long in the memory.’

“When looking back at that backline as a whole, we were all good mates and we all gelled brilliantly.” Adds Southwell. “The likes of Simon Webster on one wing, Craig Joiner on the other and Derrick Lee who was the form full back at the time. Then you had Chris Patterson, Mike Blair and Brendan Laney. We were all just good mates on and off the pitch.

“Todd Blackadder was another brilliant bloke, and he was the type of guy – and all the fans will remember – who you wanted on your side and not against you. In training, he would seek out the stand off and just lift his knees up. You wouldn’t want to tackle him. But he was a great guy to have on your side and to follow and he was a true leader on the pitch.

“It obviously wasn’t as professional as it was now, but we still put in some great performances that a lot of the fans will hopefully remember. It was great to be part of a team who were successful and as we all know getting to the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup was a brilliant achievement.”

Southwell, who now runs his own billboard supply business with a childhood friend, whilst also working as a club ambassador for London Wasps and a commentator with Sky Sports and beIN Sports, has had plenty to keep him busy post-rugby, but the now 37-year-old admits he won’t forget his time spent playing in the capital.

“Life after rugby is very different. But for me, I’ve really enjoyed it. I obviously retired earlier than I would have expected with the injury to my hamstring, but I had a god innings as such – I think I was 33 when I retired. But, I managed 14 years of professional rugby, which would be the envy of a lot of players.

“I played at some amazing clubs. Obviously with Edinburgh, Stade Francais and then finally London Wasps. And not forgetting my short spells with Bristol and Woucester when I was at University. I had a great career and it was filled with ups and downs – as we’ve all had in Scottish rugby!”