THERE comes a time in every young player’s career when promise has to be turned into achievement. That time for Charlie Shiel is tonight (Friday) against Agen, when he makes his first start for Edinburgh.
Just a few weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, the former Scotland Under-20 scrum-half has made 11 appearances off the bench for Richard Cockerill’s team, giving glimpses of his eye for a break and his speedy service. But, as the coach pointed out yesterday after naming a much-changed side for the Challenge Cup Pool Three match in France, playing from the start calls for a greater range of skills, especially in such a pivotal position.
“He’s got to prove he can run a game for us,” Cockerill said. “In his cameos off the bench he’s looked sharp and has a spark. He’s got to be able to be calm and lead the team around the field and drive the team. It will be interesting to see if he can do that from the start of a game. It’s part of his development and a good opportunity for him.
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“He’s got a good instinct, eye for the gap, very tenacious. I think the thing with Charlie is his detail needs to be on point and he needs to deliver what the team needs – and not just what he sees in the game.
“There’s a lot to like about him, but with pressure he’s going to have to deliver those things as accurately as possible. It’s a little bit easy to come on for 15-20 minutes when your team’s winning. Agen are a good side playing at home where they rarely lose, so it will be a good test for Charlie.”
Since signing his first pro contract with Edinburgh in March 2018, Shiel has had to wait patiently for his chance. That is partly because Edinburgh have had more experienced players in the position – Nic Groom and Henry Pyrgos being the two main contenders for the No 9 jersey this season – but also because Cockerill has seen flaws in his game that need to be ironed out.
“There’s been good guys in front of him, and also Charlie needs to work on his retention of information,” was the coach’s explanation when asked why Shiel has had to wait 20 months for his first start. “Nobody touches the ball more than a scrum-half, so he has to be very diligent, very on it, and drive the team. So Charlie needs to be sure of that, and this is an opportunity for him to pull of these pieces together.”
Groom is still sidelined by a hamstring strain, and with him out and Pyrgos being rested, Shiel’s understudy is Dan Nutton of Heriot’s. “He was a Merchiston schoolboy and was at Newcastle University, and he’s played a lot of rugby down there.” Cockerill said of the newcomer.
“We have an issue with Nic Groom’s hamstring, which means he’s not available, so we’ve chosen to start Charlie and get Dan on the bench to give him a full week’s training and potentially a bit of gametime. He’s a good young Scottish nine who has come through a different path. He’s one we’re trying to develop through the system.”
The Edinburgh side is far from the strongest that could have been chosen, but Cockerill insisted that his selection did not imply he was indifferent to the charms of the Challenge Cup.
“It’s just that we’ve got a tough run of 13 games on the trot. Damian Hoyland is an international winger playing at full-back for us, Jimmy Johnstone is a very good player, Eroni Sau is an international winger, Jamie Farndale and George Taylor have played very well for us, Simon Hickey is a very good player. That forward pack is good – Jamie Bhatti would class himself as an established international, so would Berghan, Barclay, Ritchie and Gilchrist.
“There’s a good mixture across the group, and if we’re going to build strength across our squad guys have got to get more opportunities. We’ve had two good years of building a team with character, a good work ethic and a solid base to work from, so guys have got to have opportunity, and take it.
“Hoyland has played very well so far this season and James Johnstone has been outstanding for us the last two years, and he’s not had so many opportunities because Mark Bennett’s been on such good form. George Taylor’s been on good form and Farndale’s a good sevens player. Could we have picked a different team? Certainly. But the mixture of that team and the guys who have actually performed is very good.”
Whatever the outcome of tonight’s game, you would still expect a stronger side to be selected for next week’s home match against Bordeaux. Groom will be back for that game or for the two against Wasps which follow, Darcy Graham could also return from injury, while WP Nel should also be available for the first time since the World Cup. Stuart McInally’s post-tournament recovery period will be over after round two of the pool games, while it is hoped that Hamish Watson, injured in Japan, will be back by the middle of next month.
Agen (v Edinburgh at the Stade Armandie, Friday 7pm British time): Loris Tolot; Timilai Rokoduru, Jordan Puletau, Alban Conduche, Benito Masilevu; Thomas Vincent, Xavier Chauveau; Morgan Phelipponneau, Loris Zarantonello, Corentin Chabeaudie, Adrian Motoc, Pierce Phillips, Gauthier Maravat, Jessy Jegerlhener, Romain Briatte (captain). Subs: Fernandez Correa, Malino Vanai, Dave Ryan, Andres Zafra Tarazona, Laurence Pearce, Hugo Verdu, Raphael Lagarde, Julien Jane.
Edinburgh: Damien Hoyland; Eroni Sau, James Johnstone, George Taylor, Jamie Farndale; Simon Hickey, Charlie Shiel; Jamie Bhatti, Cameron Fenton, Simon Berghan, Sam Thomson, Grant Gilchrist (captain), John Barclay, Jamie Ritchie, Nick Haining. Subs: Mike Willemse, Rory Sutherland, Murray McCallum, Lewis Carmichael, Ally Miller, Dan Nutton, Jason Baggott, Dougie Fife.
Referee: Joy Neville (Ireland).
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