As predictions go it would have taken some believing, that by the end of Hogmanay Scotland’s two professional rugby teams would draw bigger crowds than some of the country’s Premier League football clubs.
Anyone venturing such an opinion in the weeks before the first of the Edinburgh-Glasgow Warriors matches over Christmas might have been advised to lie down in a darkened room on suspicion that he, or she, had got a bit too festive too soon.
The attendances for their derby matches provide arguably the most revealing figures of the domestic season, a rewarding breakthrough for those who have worked tirelessly at both districts to make the numbers add up.
They did so in such spectacular fashion that, for once, Edinburgh could generate a crowd at Murrayfield which proved the equal of Hearts’ at Tynecastle 48 hours earlier, give or take a few.
The first leg of the RaboDirect PRO12 double-header in the capital on Boxing Day was witnessed by 13,246 which compared with the 13,300 for Hearts’ home win over Motherwell on Chrstmas Eve
The Warriors, fortified by the magnitude of a come-back which took them from 23-10 behind to force a draw, responded on New Year’s Day by showing that anything Edinburgh they could do too, well almost.
Rugby in Glasgow has never been the easiest sell but the Warriors marked the occasion at Firhill with a record attendance of their own.
They sold the stadium out, a reduction in capacity for safety reasons limiting the gate to marginally below 9,000.
Ninety years ago, nearly 50,000 turned up to see Partick Thistle take on Rangers at the same venue which only goes to show how times, and stadia, change.
The biggest Warriors crowd since their creation during the post-professional revolution may not be much compared to the best-supported clubs in France, Ireland and England but it’s monumental in Scottish terms.
The Warriors can now say, hand on heart, they had a bigger crowd than at least five SPL football matches over the holiday period.
Their 8,852 amounted to more than twice as many as St Mirren managed for their home match against Dundee United and more than three times as many as St. Johnstone’s gate against Kilmarnock.
Even Hibs would have looked at the Warriors crowd with some envy. The famous old Edinburgh football club managed fewer than 7,000 at Easter Road after Christmas for their home match against Inverness.
Better still, the Warriors kept winning, prop Moray Low’s try nine minutes from time stretching their winning Pro 12 run to eight matches since Treviso beat them back in September.
As managing director Nathan Bombrys said: ‘Attracting a sell-out crowd underlines the appetite and passion for rugby that exists in Glasgow and the west of Scotland.’
They will need another mighty demonstration of their new appeal for their next match at Firhill, the acid test of their home strength – Leinster at home in the European Cup on Sunday January 15.
The Warriors will need to give the holders more than a run for their money if they are to go to Bath in the last pool round with a realistic shot at qualifying for the last eight.
Edinburgh, still alive in the same competition after three wins out of four and with Racing Metro next up in Paris, have increased their Pro 12 gates by some 2,000 to almost 5,000.
The Warriors are up from marginally below 3,000 to more than 4,000 with the likelihood of the figure rising as their bid for a top-four finish and a place in the play-offs gathers momentum.
Despite the recession, they are not the only clubs to increase support. Leinster have increased their average from 17,000 last season to top 20,000, helped by almost filling the Aviva Stadium at Lansdowne Road to its 51,000-capacity for their home win over Munster in early November.
Connacht, who suffered the galling experience of out-scoring Leinster 2-0 on tries in going within one conversion of holding the European champions to a draw on New Year’s Day, have almost doubled their gates in Galway to more than 4,000.
In Wales, the four regions are recovering from a few thin months at the box-office. The Scarlets lead the way, their 14,756 sell-out for the Boxing Day derby against the Ospreys superseding every other regional attendance in Wales this season in domestic and European competition.
Gavin Henson’s return to the Liberty Stadium in his new guise as full back for the Cardiff Blues roused enough curiosity for the Ospreys to declare their best crowd of the season, more than 11,000 on New Year’s Day.
Henson, who last played for the Ospreys way back in March 2009, had every hope of a winning return despite Tommy Bowe’s first Pro 12 try of the season.
Dan Parks came off the bench to nudge the Blues ahead with his fourth drop goal of the season only for another substitute fly half, Dan Biggar, to kick the two late penalties which keeps the Ospreys at the front of the pack chasing Leinster.