IF YOU’RE going to win at the home of the PRO14 and European champions, you tend to need a fair wind and your first-choice 15. It remains to be seen if any good fortune falls Edinburgh’s way when they take on Leinster at the RDS tonight, but one thing is for sure: they are not going there with their first-choice 15.
Only six players remain from the team that began last week’s home win against Connacht, and some of those left out this week are among the most valuable members of Richard Cockerill’s squad. Stuart McInally, Blair Kinghorn, Matt Scott, Grant Gilchrist and Hamish Watson are among the Scotland players who will sit out the match in Dublin, in part because Cockerill has to restrict the number of games his internationals play by agreement with the national management.
With Dougie Fife standing in at full-back for Kinghorn and other wingers being injured, Scotland Sevens player Jamie Farndale comes into the team for what will be his first appearance for the team in six years – and just his second ever. Chris Dean and Juan Pablo Socino are paired at centre, Fraser McKenzie is captain in McInally’s absence, and Sean Kennedy starts at scrum-half with Nathan Fowles on the bench.
The patchwork nature of the squad does not inspire optimism, but Edinburgh came close to winning in Dublin last year, and the coach, as ever, is confident his team will give a good account of themselves. “I’m expecting us to go there and throw everything at them and see where we get to,” Cockerill said. “We’re going there to try and win.
“That’s a good team, isn’t it? Apart from Fraser McKenzie, all that forward pack is capped and will be in consideration for the Autumn Internationals. It’s a test of our strength in depth and of those players to step up.
“I’ve chosen to rotate the squad because there are some game limits on the Scotland guys. After this game we have Benetton and Cheetahs then we’re into Europe. There are two league games at home that will be very important to us and it’s a good opportunity to rotate the squad.
“Leinster are double champions from last year – it’s going to be a challenge for us regardless of who we send. This is a good team which has been well prepared over the week, and it should be a team that goes there with a lot of excitement over playing another very good team.”
It may be a good team, but it is far from being Edinburgh’s best team, and Cockerill accepted that some observers might regard it as a second string, selected for a game which even his strongest side would find hard to win. But he also pointed out that other teams have already made big changes for some games – sometimes successfully – and that there was in any case no way he could simply pick his best starting 15 week after week.
“You could interpret it that way, but it’s a bit like Leinster sending a completely different 23 to Cardiff. They came away with a result, so that’s their prerogative.
“The reality is that we’ve got to go there and try and win and we’ll try and do that. How realistic that is we’ll have to see.
“Are we supposed to keep flogging the same 15 blokes for the next six weeks until the Autumn Tests come? We have to rotate the squad.
“I would imagine we have a slightly different budget to Leinster, so we have to work with the cards we’re dealt, it’s as simple as that. But for me that’s a good 23. Those players – I’m comfortable with them going there and battling for the points.”
They will be willing to battle, all right – that much is surely guaranteed in any side that Cockerill puts out. But the backs, in particular, can expect to be put under severe pressure, and a lot will depend on whether Farndale has been around the squad long enough to become reacquainted with 15s after so long in the abbreviated game..
“It takes a little while, but he’s been training with us for a few weeks and obviously he played at Newcastle in pre-season and scored a nice try,” Cockerill added. “He’s been getting plenty of reps and knew from early on this week that he’s starting so he’s been doing all the training. He gets an opportunity. We’ve got some injuries in that back three and will have to rest Blair because he’s going to be instrumental in the national team. Dougie Fife has played very well at full-back for us previously, and we’re bringing a good-quality Scottish-qualified player into the squad so he gets his opportunity. We haven’t got levels and levels and levels of strength in depth because we’ve got two pro teams and we work to a budget.”
Edinburgh (v Leinster at the RDS Arena, Saturday, kick-off 7.35pm, live on Premier Sports): D Fife; J Farndale, C Dean, J Socino, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, S Kennedy; A Dell, R Ford, S Berghan, F McKenzie, B Toolis, L Hamilton, J Ritchie, M Bradbury. Subs: D Cherry, P Schoeman, M McCallum, C Hunter-Hill, L Crosbie, N Fowles, S Hickey, J Johnstone.
Leinster: J Larmour; F McFadden, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; J Sexton, L McGrath; C Healy, J Tracy, M Bent, D Toner, J Ryan, M Deegan, J van der Flier, J Conan. Subs: S Cronin, P Dooley, T Furlong, M Kearney, D Leavy, J Gibson-Park, R Byrne, J Tomane.
Referee: D Jones (Wales).