INTERVIEW | Ben Cairns: "The 1872 Cup matches just felt bigger."

Now in his fourth season as Currie Chieftains head coach, former Edinburgh centre Ben Cairns has developed a reputation as being of one of Scotland’s most promising young tacticians.

But before the he took charge of the BT Premiership side, the now 32-year-old, who retired in 2014 due to injury, was carving up opposition defences in the black and red of Edinburgh.

Cairn’s amassed 117 appearances for the capital club in a career that spanned over 10 years. Recruited straight out of the city’s Royal High, Cairns signed his firsts academy contract in 2004 before making his first team debut against Leinster in 2006.

The centre soon cemented his place amid a back-line filled with international talent alongside the likes of Chris Paterson and Mike Blair, but Cairns never looked out of place.

“We had a really great bunch of boys during that period,” admits Cairns. “There were a lot guys playing for Scotland at that time. The likes of Phil Godman, Mike Blair, Chris Paterson, Nick De Luca and Simon Webster had a lot international experience.

“It was a great time to be at the club. The quality we possessed didn’t always translate into results, but at the same time we had some fantastic wins.”

Whilst the Edinburgh teams of the early 2000’s perhaps didn’t hit the high notes that their playing talents merited, there was certainly no shortage of attacking highlights – especially with Cairns in the mix.

The former centre recalls numerous nights of domestic success, as well as a few stand-out results in Europe, however, Cairns did confesses that the annual bouts against Edinburgh’s west coast rivals, Glasgow, were hard to beat.

“The 1872 Cup matches just felt bigger. With them always being played at Christmas, there was a massive build up and it set the tone for international selection.

“For the players, it was a really good opportunity to test yourself against your opposite number and compete for the Scotland jersey. That has always been part of it. It’s a great window for guys to put their hands up for international selection.

“The derbies definitely stand out when thinking back on the games I played for the club. They were definitely some of the most enjoyable fixtures to play in. I remember a game at BT Murrayfield where we won narrowly and I managed to score the winning try fairly late on.

“Nick de Luca crashed up and then managed throw a pass about a metre forward to myself. I ran under the posts to win the game. The then Glasgow coach, Sean Lineen, still reminds me of how forward the pass was. But, we got away with it!”

A catalogue of niggling injuries unfortunately resulted in Cairns hanging up his playing boots 2014. It wasn’t long, however, before he picked up the coach’s whistle was back amongst the game he loved. In the same year as his retirement, he was named as head coach of BT Premiership side and boyhood club, Currie.

“The last four years have been a brilliant learning curve. At the club level, you definitely have to take control of a lot more than you would, perhaps, at the pro level.

“There’s a lot of off-field stuff that you have to deal with, whether it’s meeting with the committee or simply making sure facilities are booked.

“Coaching wasn’t particularly something I wanted to get into. I think when I played, if you asked me what I wanted to do after I rugby, I would have answered: ‘I’m not really sure, but nothing to do with rugby!’

“I obviously retired earlier than I hoped and rugby was what I knew. At that point, I still felt like I had a lot to give to the game, so coaching became an interest of mine. Coaching gave me the opportunity to stay involved with a team and to still get that match day buzz.”

Cairns’ coaching ‘buzz’ will have no doubt been aided by the emergence of Edinburgh’s Luke Crosbie and Charlie Shiel. Akin to the now 32-year-old’s career path, the duo have risen through the ranks at Malleny Park and find themselves in the mix amongst Edinburgh’s first XV.

Although Shiel has yet to make his debut for the club, Crosbie has paved the way for future academy prospects. The 20-year-old back-row scored his first try for Edinburgh in last month’s European Challenge Cup victory over London Irish and has been in a mainstay in the first XV in recent fixtures.

“It’s part of our model at Currie to bring through as many young players at possible, so it’s great to see both Luke and Charlie doing so well.

“Giving guys an opportunity at the BT Premiership level and then providing them with a spring board to the pro game is something that we want to continue to develop. I think you’ll see plenty more of Currie’s youngsters pulling on the Edinburgh jersey in the future.” 

Don’t miss out on Edinburgh's festive fixtures. Beat the match day crowds and book your tickets for our European double-header against London Irish and Krasny Yar, as well as the highly anticipated 1872 Cup on December 23!