EST1872 | Irvine: "The district games were blood and guts."

Throughout Edinburgh’s history, the club has always carried a proud tradition of producing exciting fullbacks.

From Chris Paterson’s unflappable brilliance under the high-ball, to Bruce Hay’s tough tackling reputation, and now Blair Kinghorn’s penetrative style of running, there has certainly been no shortage of skill in the number 15 jersey.

However, before all of the aforementioned fullbacks were cutting through opposition defences, there was one name in the capital synonymous with the position: Andy Irvine.

As the quintessential counter-attacking fullback, Irvine lit up both the domestic and international scenes throughout an illustrious 15-year career, winning 51 caps Scotland, scoring ten tries in the process.

The George Heriot’s School product – who is now Chairman of the club – may have risen to fame on Murrayfield’s hallowed turf, but it was under the guise of Edinburgh where he truly made his name.

However, as much as Irvine is renowned for his attacking genius, his first appearance representing the capital didn’t go as smoothly as you’d first think.

“I had only played about four or five games for Heriot’s, and the call to play for Edinburgh came completely out the blue,” explained Irvine.

“We were playing against The South at Poynder Park and I was selected on the wing. I used to play centre at school, so I had never really practised on the wing whatsoever.

“In those days, the winger used to throw the ball in at lineouts, so this was completely alien to me. The captain was a guy called John Douglas, who was a British Lion in 1962. John was a pretty fearsome character, but a great captain.

I remember we only had one practice session at Jock’s lodge, and I couldn’t throw in the ball for toffee, and John Douglas was shouting: ‘why have we picked this guy? He’s terrible!’

“At 36, he was twice my age, so I was nervous as hell going into the match. So, he said at the first lineout, ‘whatever you do, make sure we get clean ball to our scrum-half, Graham Young.’ So, I’m about to throw in and I just have a mental block and throw the ball straight to Graham Young.

“The referee didn’t know what to do, because all the boys in the South pack were falling around laughing. John Douglas went absolutely spare and the referee asked me if I had done it on purpose - because if so, it was going to be a penalty against me! I could hardly speak.

“So, on we went. Scrum down; The South won the ball, hit up a high punt to our fullback Roger Proudfoot, who got absolutely carted by Alasdair Cranston and was taken off. So, I put my hand up and said: ‘I’ve played at full-back a few times before.’

“I went on to have the game of my life and at the end of the match John Douglas came up to me and said: ‘well son, you’re the worst winger I’ve ever seen, but you might be the best fullback I’ve ever seen!’”

The rest, as they say, is history and Irvine’s skipper on the day’s post-match sentiment would soon become public opinion. And as the fullback’s reputation developed, so did his influence on an experienced Edinburgh side.

“By the time I was established in the Edinburgh side, we had a lot internationalists,” continued Irvine.

“There was Dougie Morgan at scrum-half. Fraser Dall from Heriot’s was stand-off and in the centre, you had Ian Forsyth and David Bell from Watsonians. On the wing you had Bruce Hay. I mean we really had a lot of useful players and we were really hard to beat.

“The inter-district matches were really intense, and especially the matches against the South – they were huge games. We usually did pretty well against them up in Edinburgh but down in the Borders, they were almost invincible.

“The intercity match against Glasgow was always a big game, because it was a marquee fixture and the longest standing derby in the world.

“When we played at Glasgow it was always at Hughenden, but when hosted in Edinburgh, we’d be at Myreside, Goldenacre, and during a spell in the early 70s, we played at Meadowbank, which at the time was a new ground so would always attract a big crowd.

“The district games were blood and guts. There was nothing given, and it was effectively a Scottish trial match. If you were playing the South, there would be at least 15 Scotland internationalists vying for a cap. And against Glasgow, it was the same.”

Now as Edinburgh Chairman, Irvine has had a front-row seat to the resurgence of the club under the guidance of Head Coach Richard Cockerill.

The spirit that Edinburgh has now is really excellent. There’s definitely a work ethic and an ethos there, which you’ve got to give Cockerill a lot of credit for. He’s really moulded these boys. Mentally they’re a lot tougher than they were six months ago.

“Kinghorn has been a revelation, but he’s still just a young kid.  I can see the parallels in my own game. He’s still got a lot to learn, but he’s got a lot of great attributes. He’s a big physical boy; he’s got lots of pace and he really times his runs well.

“You look at someone like Stuart McInally - he’s a completely different player. Grant Gilchrist has got his mojo back and is playing some brilliant rugby. At the moment, we’ve got as much strength and depth as ever.”

As Edinburgh enter the business end of the season, with crucial home fixtures against Munster, Ulster, Scarlets and Glasgow still come, they will be hoping to channel some of Irvine’s legendary playmaking abilities, that forever proved to be a match winner.