IT may be unwise to read too much into pre-season results, and Edinburgh were certainly not minded to make any bold predictions about the coming United Rugby Championship campaign on the back of their 50-29 friendly win over Benetton on Saturday.

Nonetheless, there were enough good things about the performance against the Italians to suggest that, after a dismal 2020-21 campaign, some modest optimism is now in order. 

If the team appeared to have run out of steam during that fourth and final season under Richard Cockerill, they certainly seem to be rejuvenated under new head coach Mike Blair. The former Scotland captain’s game plan encourages players to think on their feet and to strike a balance between adventurous play and the more conservative approach favoured by his predecessor, and although it will take some time for individuals to come wholly to terms with what is required of them, Saturday showed they have already made a lot of progress in a short period of time. 

“That’s still probably something we’re learning as a group,” winger Damien Hoyland said of the balance they are seeking. “But that’s what these pre-season games are about. At times we maybe forced that extra pass when we should probably have held on to it, but we’re creating lots of opportunities. Moving forward, when we can execute those opportunities that we’re creating, that will be the difference between winning and losing games.”

Edinburgh scored eight tries, five of them converted, with Hoyland himself touching down twice. That tally was impressive enough against opponents who stayed in the contest until the final ten minutes, but, as Hoyland pointed out, there could well have been more than eight. “There was a lot of good rugby out there,” he added. “The really exciting thing is that we know we can be better than that.” 

They can and will be better than they were on Saturday, and the fact that those eight tries were split equally between forwards and backs suggests that they now have a pleasing versatility to their game - a quality that was conspicuous by its absence under Cockerill, whose reliance on his powerful pack all too often rendered his team’s approach one-dimensional.

Of course, Edinburgh are not the only team who have been trying to make improvements over the close season, and the true measure of any progress made will come on Saturday when the Scarlets visit the ERS in the first round of the new Championship. “We’re going to play to our strengths against Scarlets, and we showed against Benetton that we can score lots of points when we play to our strengths,” Hoyland concluded. “That isn’t just chucking the ball for the sake of chucking it - I don’t know how many tries we scored from our maul as well. 

“We showed we’ve got a varied attack and a varied kicking game and we’re going to keep using that. We’ll give it a hell of a good crack.”