It was a strange but successful return to the Arms Park for Gareth Baber as he shared in Edinburgh’s BKT United Rugby Championship victory over his former team at the famous old ground.
He played at scrum-half for Cardiff, then had a lengthy spell coaching with the region and still has his family home in the Welsh capital where he was born and raised.
Now, after a high-profile stint as Fiji’s Sevens coach, which brought Olympic gold at the 2020 Tokyo Games, he is working for Edinburgh on the attack and skills front.
That saw him heading back to the Arms Park on the weekend and enjoying a winning return as the Scottish outfit secured a hard-fought 25-17 victory.
“It was strange being in the away dressing room, for certain,” he said.
“I love the place. It’s where I grew up watching rugby, with all the history and tradition.
“It was nice to be back and it was enjoyable to come out with the result like we did. To see the smiles and enjoyment of the players and coaching staff was pretty special.
“We knew it was going to be a physical battle and we weren’t disappointed in that. I thought overall we probably deserved the win.”
After a spell as Cardiff Blues’ joint head coach alongside Justin Burnell, Baber headed for Hong Kong to take charge of that country’s Sevens operation in 2013, before making the move to Fiji in 2016, winning the World Series in 2019 and the Olympic Games the following year.
Then, in December 2021, he took up his current role as Edinburgh’s skills and assistant attack coach. “It was a bit of a shock to the system coming back into 15s from Sevens,” admitted the 50-year-old. “I did Sevens for nigh on seven years and your brain gets slightly re-wired.
“In fairness to Edinburgh and Mike Blair, in particular, he wanted something a little bit different. Coaching back in Britain is slightly colder than coaching in Fiji, but I am enjoying it.”
Explaining the challenge involved, he said: “I needed to understand how the game has moved on and it has done. “Towards the end of my last spell in 15s, the game had become very staid in the way it was being played. It was very, very physical and there were fewer opportunities to break out and play expansive rugby.
“You are seeing a lot more focus on playing off turnover ball now and I am quite excited about what I am seeing compared to six or seven years ago.”
He added: “The URC is a very interesting league. The advent of the South African teams being in it has added another dimension to it. They all play slightly differently which is interesting from a coaching perspective.”
After the opening block of seven matches, Edinburgh lie fifth in table, having recorded four wins, beating the Dragons, Benetton, Zebre and now Cardiff.
“We probably rue the Lions game at home which we lost. We were really on top and had that game, while we had a bit of a tough time down in South Africa, as a lot of teams do, but we learned from that,” said Baber. “There is a good group here, with players from overseas who add to the mix and buy into what being an Edinburgh Gunner is all about. It was a great effort to come down to Cardiff and get a win.”
Next up for the team from the Scottish capital will be a trip to Treviso to face Benetton on November 26, followed by a home game against Munster six days later.