RICHARD Cockerill has made five changes to his starting line-up to play Cardiff tomorrow night, three in the pack and two in the backs. Grant Gilchrist returns at lock and as captain after being a substitute for Scotland in Italy last week, replacing loan signing Stan South. The other change up front is at loosehead, where Jamie Bhatti also returns from the national squad and takes the No 1 jersey from Pierre Schoeman, who is on the bench.
Behind the scrum, James Johnstone and George Taylor take over at centre from Mark Bennett and Matt Scott, who are both injured – Scott with a head knock, Bennett with a hamstring strain. Charlie Shiel starts at scrum-half instead of Nic Groom – the first time he will have begun a match for Edinburgh at home. Henry Pyrgos, who like Bhatti travelled to Rome as Scotland cover but did not feature in the matchday 23, is on the bench.
The list of unavailable players is a mixture of those who are out injured and others who have been retained by Scotland: David Cherry, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott, Jack Blain, Fraser McKenzie, Stan South, Darcy Graham, WP Nel, Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally, Ben Toolis, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Magnus Bradbury, Blair Kinghorn.
Cardiff are fifth in Conference B and struggling to get back into contention for a play-off place, but Cockerill is taking nothing for granted. “Look, they’re a half-decent side – they’ve got good players. They’re missing a few players but crikey, so are we. So, look I’ve played them four times since I’ve been here – I’ve beaten them twice away and lost both at home. So, we need to make sure we’re on it, we’ve got lots of guys missing but we’ll have a good team, we should be well motivated since we’re on a good run, so we need to make sure we get all the basic things right.
“It’s the same as the last two weeks. The weather will be a little bit better but we need to be really functional and practical in how we play. We just need to go and win the game – do whatever it takes to win.
“I’m not fussy about our style. Substance, physicality and mentality should be 10 out of 10 for us, and we should go out with confidence to make sure we get our performance right. We’ve still got a bit of vulnerability about us and we need to make sure we get rid of that, because it’s not good enough.
“We’ve got a good side out there, and we’re missing a lot of people, but no excuses. I’m only interested in the guys that are here. We’ll have a good team, we’ll be well prepared and we need to win. Simple as that.”
With a three-point lead over second-placed Munster, Edinburgh will stay top with any kind of win. But Cockerill does not want his squad to presume that the job has been done when it comes to booking a play-off place, and insisted there is only one point in the season when he will actually start thinking about the possibility that his team will top the conference?
“After round 21. Glasgow here, when we play them in the 1872. Because the minute any team starts getting away from fundamentals . . . We’ve just got to keep grafting. We’re not a good enough team to start thinking about anything else but what we do tomorrow and how well we’re going to do it.
“Whether you’re a Toulon or Leicester, or Exeter or anybody else – you just need to make sure you get today right. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re going to see how far we can go.
“Is it realistic that we should top the group? Well, Munster have got one thing to concentrate on and that’s the league, they’ll get some very good players back. We’re trying to retain what we’ve got, and they’re signing two Springbok World Cup winners. So, it’s not apples with apples, is it?
“We want to get into a quarter-final or a semi-final – whatever that looks like – and we want to give it our best shot. Are we good enough to win the league? Probably not. But we’ll have a crack.
“At the moment, though, let’s worry about getting in to the top three, qualifying for Europe, playing with the big boys next year and let’s try to get to a quarter-final to have a crack. We’ve got one [in the Challenge Cup] with Bordeaux, who beat Clermont at the weekend away from home, so we’re probably playing the form team – outside of Leinster.
“Them and Leinster are probably the two best teams in Europe, and we’re playing them in a quarter-final. And we’ve still got, what, nine games until we try to qualify for a top-three spot in our conference.”
Edinburgh (v Cardiff at BT Murrayfield, Friday 7.35pm): D Hoyland; E Sau, J Johnstone, G Taylor, D van der Merwe; S Hickey, C Shiel; J Bhatti, M Willemse, S Berghan, L Carmichael, G Gilchrist (captain), N Haining, L Crosbie, V Mata. Substitutes: C Fenton, P Schoeman, P Ceccarelli, S Thomson, J Barclay, H Pyrgos, J van der Walt, C Dean.
Cardiff Blues: H Amos; J Harries, G Smith, B Thomas, A Summerhill; J Tovey, L Williams (captain); B Thyer, K Dacey, D Arhip, S Davies, R Thornton, S Lewis-Hughes, O Robinson, J Turnbull. Substitutes: K Myhill, C Domachowski, K Assiratti, B Murphy, W Boyde, L Jones, M Llewellyn, D Fish.