EDINBURGH have travelled to Moscow in far from ideal circumstances, with the suspension of John Hardie adding to that of Magnus Bradbury, but Richard Cockerill appears convinced his depleted squad will be strong enough to defeat Krasny Yar this morning provided they do themselves justice.
The absence of Hardie and Bradbury combined with the injury that has ruled out Hamish Watson has weakened the head coach’s options in the back row, but the fact he has made nine changes from the side that started last week’s win against London Irish is an indication of the belief he has in the depth of his squad. Cornell du Preez, one of Edinburgh’s best players in that opening Challenge Cup pool game, is joined in the back row by Lewis Carmichael and Luke Crosbie, who has been promoted to make his first start after scoring off the bench at the Madejski Stadium. Jamie Ritchie has been left out, but Bill Mata returns from injury to join a strong-looking set of substitutes.
In the backs, Blair Kinghorn is also restored to the side following injury, while Tom Brown starts on the wing and James Johnstone replaces Chris Dean at centre. There is again no place in the squad for Robbie Fruean, who made an excellent start to his Edinburgh career after joining in the summer, but has a knee issue, according to the coach, while Duncan Weir has an abdominal injury which could keep him out for several weeks.
“There’s a bit of rotation,” Cockerill said of his selection. “I’ve given Crosbie his first start and Lewis Carmichael his first start of the season. They’re both good young players. I trust that they’re good enough to go and do the job. It’s good to have Vili Mata back in the squad and ready to play a part off the bench.
“It’s a strong squad, and if we play as well as we’re capable of there’s no reason we shouldn’t win, but we’re taking nothing for granted. They had a very good result last week, but they’ve travelled as far if not further than we have, so it’s very much a neutral venue. I don’t expect there to be much atmosphere in the stadium, so after last week and them upsetting Stade it’s for us to play for to get out of the group now. I’m confident in the team we’ve picked. It’s a strong side, although there’s a couple of young guys in that back row who are still developing learning.”
As Cockerill said, Krasny Yar stunned Stade Francais by beating them in last week’s first round of Pool 4 fixtures, but that was on their own ground in Siberia. Today’s game is in Moscow – closer to Edinburgh than the city of Krasny Yar – and the coach expects there to be little atmosphere in the Fili Stadium, whose capacity is around 1,000.
“I think it’s helpful for obvious reasons,” Cockerill said of that switch to what is effectively a neutral venue. “We’re away from their home ground. They’ve had to travel too. I don’t think there will be much of a crowd – I wouldn’t expect many to be making the five-hour flight from Krasny Yar to Moscow – so it will be down to us to make our own atmosphere.
“Obviously last week they played at home, their first game in Europe against the champions of the competition. I think they were very much up for the contest and the battle. It was like a cup final. They played some decent stuff – they’re very combative, as you’d imagine, but they actually played some good rugby as well. When they had penalties they kicked to the corner, took advantage, and scored tries from those plays.
“This may seem like a less important game from the outside but a good win tomorrow puts us in pole position to go through and would mean three wins on the bounce going into two very important league games. It’s a very important period for us.
“If we play how we can and control the game as we’d like to and physically we front up, I think we’ll win. If we’re sloppy and don’t get it right physically we might have problems. It’s tough for us time wise, 10am our time in reality, but they have the same issues time wise. We just have to be focused physically and mentally.”
The squad’s focus has to have been affected this week by the suspensions of Bradbury, the club captain, and Hardie, one of the most experienced and able members of the team. But if they can put such distractions to one side they should indeed, as Cockerill suggested, be good enough to claim a second win that would put them clear at the top of the pool.
Edinburgh (v Krasny Yar at the Fili Stadium, Moscow, Saturday 21 October, 10am BST): B Kinghorn, D Hoyland, J Johnstone, J Rasolea, T Brown; J Tovey, S Hidalgo-Clyne; A Dell, N Cochrane, W Nel, A Bresler, G Gilchrist, L Crosbie, L Carmichael, C du Preez. Substitutes: S McInally, D Marfo, S Berghan, F MacKenzie, V Mata, N Fowles, C Dean, G Bryce.
Krasny Yar: V Artemyev; R Iagudin, I Galinovskiy, L Malaguradze, V Chaban; F Apikotoa, V Dorofeev; S Fukofuka, J Bregvadze, A Bitiev, A Mahu, A Garbuzov, V Gresev, V Arhip, A Ilin. Substitutes: A Kondakov, G Tsnobiladze, M Tsiklauri, E Zykov, A Khudiakov, A Riabov, E Kolomiitcev, K Golosnitskii.