RICHARD COCKERILL happily admits that he is using this weekend’s Challenge Cup fixture against Stade Francais as an opportunity to experiment with his Edinburgh squad, but insisted that his tinkering should not negatively impact his team’s prospects of making it six wins from six in the competition this year.
“We just decided to look after a few guys who have played a fair bit and have given opportunities to others. Lewis Carmichael and Fraser McKenzie need to play [in the second-row] so we can see where they are at, and we also wanted to give an opportunity to Cammy Fenton [at hooker] in a big game to see where he is in his development,” explained the coach.
“Stuart McInally has done very well but Fenton is only 22 and has played at age-group for Scotland,” Cockerill added. “I want to see how he goes. Ford is injured but he is 34, Cochrane is also 34, so I have to have one eye on the future around those young hookers coming through, and he is one of them.”
“It is an opportunity in a game that is not critical for us to give him a chance to play and we can see where he is at. He is a good player, he has played well when he has come off the bench and he gets a great opportunity this weekend.
“We have to make sure we develop the squad. The only way to do that is to give guys opportunities. This is a real opportunity in a big game that is important to us. We are still going there to win. We have the luxury that we are already qualified.” “We are pleased with the team. Looking at Stade, they have picked a strong side as well so it will be a really good test for us.”
One player who seems to have a foot in both camps when it comes to striking that balance between blooding youngsters and giving genuine Scotland hopefuls a chance to show that they are ready for the challenge of the Six Nations, is tight-head prop Murray McCallum.
The 21-year-old Fifer is still making his way in the pro game after signing his first contract with Edinburgh last March, but is now well positioned to become a full Scotland international after a combination of injury and suspension ruled Zander Fagerson, WP Nel and Simon Berghan out of the Six Nations opener in Wales.
“Murray is working hard at his game, he did well last weekend for large parts of the game,” said Cockerill. “He is still young and inexperienced, he is doing a good job for 40 to 50 minutes and then gets fatigued and it becomes a bit harder for him. Playing longer and longer, and getting more experience, and getting used to the fatigue of playing at tighthead in particular, is good for him.
“He is developing well. He may get an opportunity [for Scotland] in that first game [against Wales] because of circumstance and if he does then he is good enough to hold his own to a point. He is probably not ready for international rugby yet but circumstances may conspire in his favour and he may get the opportunity. If that is 20 to 25 minutes off the bench in Cardiff, then I think he will do a good job.”
Hawick youngster Darcy Graham has been named at full-back in place of Scotland squad recruit Blair Kinghorn. The 20-year-old came to prominence as a winger but there is a school of thought that wearing the number 15 jersey gives him more scope to really explore the full range of threats he poses with the ball in hand.
“It is good for Darcy to get experience at full-back as well as wing. Blair has played a lot of rugby and he has a slight injury in his foot which we want to look after. It’s not a problem, just a bit sore from being stood on last weekend,” explained Cockerill.
“It was sensible to give him [Kinghorn] a weekend off because we can. He will be heavily involved with Scotland, if he is not playing he will be training with them, and that is a heavy workload – so we decided to look after him.
“Darcy has done really well and this is a good opportunity to expose him at a different level. It will be interesting to see how he goes,” said Cockerill.
Cockerill has stuck with a fairly experienced back-row, with Hamish Watson sitting this one out, but fellow Scotland squad members Cornell Du Preez and Magnus Bradbury in the starting line-up – alongside Jamie Ritchie, who must be one of the most unfortunate players not to have made Gregor Townsend’s 40 man Scotland training squad when it was announced on Tuesday.
With Fijian international Viliame Mata on the bench, there is no room for Luke Crosbie – who started the season as an academy contract but impressed Cockerill enough to be handed a pro contract just before Christmas.
“Luke has played well when he had the opportunity. He is a little bit unlucky not to be in the 23 but we have a strong back row contingent. He is more than likely to get an opportunity during the Six Nations,” said Cockerill.
Edinburgh (v Stade Francais at the Stade Jean-Bouin, Saturday, 8pm GMT): D Graham; D Hoyland, M Bennett, J Rasolea, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, N Fowles; R Sutherland, C Fenton, M McCallum, F McKenzie, L Carmichael, M Bradbury, J Ritchie, C Du Preez. Subs: N Cochrane, K Bryve, M Shields, G Gilchrist, V Mata, S Hidalgo-Clyne, J Johnstone, D Fife.
Stade Francais: T Ensor; J Arias, W Vuidarvuwalu, J Danty, D Camara; S Geraghty C McLeod; Z Zhvania, L Panis, P Alo Emile, P Gabrillagues, A Flanquart, M De Giovanni, M Ugena, S Macalou. Substitutes: C Burden, H Van der Merwe, G Melikidze, S Cerqueira, S Parisse, A Coville, P Williams, J Yobo.