Edinburgh make eight changes for Bordeaux trip

Hamish Watson and Bill Mata return to back-row for penultimate Challenge Cup pool match

Hamish Watson
Hamish Watson is back in the Edinburgh team to play the Sharks. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson.

RICHARD Cockerill has changed more than half his Edinburgh line-up for tomorrow’s Challenge Cup tie in Bordeaux, but, in an indication of the squad’s growing strength in depth, the starting 15 still looks impressively strong.

The bulk of the alterations from the side that began last week’s comfortable PRO14 win against the Southern Kings is in the pack, where Rory Sutherland and Simon Berghan return to the front row, Sam Thomson comes in at lock, and Hamish Watson and Bill Mata are restored to the back row after missing out last week. In the backs, Nic Groom takes over as scrum-half and captain from Henry Pyrgos, Mark Bennett is at outside centre, and Darcy Graham is on the wing.

“Bordeaux are a very big physical team,” the head coach said. “I think we’ve got to be smart in how we play and clever around our tactics. Of course, there are parts of the game where you’ve got to front up and match them, but we can be a little bit smart in how we approach the game and make sure we don’t get into an arm-wrestle that suits them more than it suits us.”

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The presence of Bennett and Graham in particular hints at a plan to play an expansive, attacking game rather than getting bogged down in a set-piece battle. The pack will still have to hold their own, of course, and there is sure to be particular pressure on Sutherland and Berghan – although replacement props Pierre Schoeman and Pietro Ceccarelli can also expect some game time.

John Barclay returns to the bench after injury, but Stuart McInally, Fraser McKenzie, Jamie Ritchie, Nick Haining, George Taylor, Chris Dean are all listed as unavailable.

Bordeaux, who drew 16-16 at Murrayfield in the first game between the sides, are top of Pool Three, ahead of Edinburgh by a point. They visit Wasps in the last round of  pool games next Saturday, while Edinburgh are at home to Agen.

Edinburgh (v Bordeaux-Begles at the Stade Chaban Delmas, Saturday 12.45pm British time): B Kinghorn; D Graham, M Bennett, M Scott, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, N Groom; R Sutherland, M Willemse, S Berghan, S Thomson, L Carmichael, M Bradbury, H Watson, V Mata. Substitutes: D Cherry, P Schoeman, P Ceccarelli, J Barclay, L Crosbie, C Shiel, S Hickey, J Johnstone.

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About Stuart Bathgate 1393 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.