Challenge Cup: Edinburgh set to rest key quartet against Clermont

The senior forwards will sit out the France trip to ensure their availability for the 1872 Cup double-header

Jamie Ritchie and WP Nel
Jamie Ritchie (left) and WP Nel are set to miss out on Edinburgh's trip to France on Friday. Image: © Craig Watson.

SEAN EVERITT is confident that his Edinburgh squad have what it takes to beat Clermont on Friday night despite his decision to rest four key forwards from the Challenge Cup pool game in France. And, while insisting that qualification for the United Rugby Championship play-offs remains the team’s principal objective for the season, the senior coach believes his squad can also be contenders for the Challenge Cup.

Three of the four forwards – Pierre Schoeman, WP Nel and Jamie Ritchie – will be rested under Scottish Rugby’s international players’ protocol which stipulates that certain players can only play five games on the bounce before being given a weekend off. The fourth, Grant Gilchrist, was rested from last week’s URC win against Ulster in Belfast, but Everitt believes the lock deserves a longer break. By resting those players now, the coach will ensure they are all available for the festive double-header against Glasgow Warriors.

“The international players can’t play more than five in a row,” the coach explained earlier today (Tuesday). “There are certain players who would need to rest now if they were to be available for the two 1872 games.

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“It’s the guys who have been playing regularly for us, guys like Jamie Ritchie, Pierre Schoeman, WP Nel – and a guy like Grant, who we feel we can give another week’s rest. He’s been carrying quite a big load at the start of the URC due to injuries to Sam [Skinner]. and we’re happy with the performance of the locks who played against Ulster on Saturday and I think they deserve another crack.”

Marshall Sykes and Jamie Hodgson were the starting second-row forwards at the Kingspan Stadium, while Glen Young came off the bench in Edinburgh’s 27-24 win – their fifth victory in seven starts in the league. Coming off the back of a wholly avoidable home loss to Benetton, it was arguably Edinburgh’s best performance of the season so far, and gave Everitt further reason to have confidence in the squad’s collective character.

“We are in a good place,” he continued. “The team was unfortunate to lose against Benetton, so it was important for us to bounce back. It just shows the character of the group and where they want to be.

“To win at Kingspan is never an easy task, so I’m proud of how the guys stuck to the task. I know we made it difficult towards the end – for me it was just almost like panic set in and maybe a bit of deja vu after losing the last three encounters against them at the death. The guys are relieved and I’m just happy for them to have got the result.”  

When it was suggested to him that there is a lot of talent missing from what is sure to be a tough game in Clermont, he continued: “There is, but if you look at our team, everyone has been playing regularly. I’m not going to give away any secrets, but if you look at the loose trio we have, you’ve still got the likes of Luke Crosbie, Hamish Watson, Bill Mata, Ben Muncaster and Connor Boyle to choose from and they’ve done really well in the Edinburgh jersey this season.

“With the majority of the guys who played against Ulster being in the mix this weekend we can take a lot of confidence. I’ve been fortunate enough to coach against Toulon twice and Toulouse, and I know how passionate their supporters are and how intimidating the crowd can be. So I think it’s a great experience and it’s good for our youngsters in the group to have that experience of playing in a volatile stadium like Clermont’s.

“They [Clermont] are on form. The French league is a tough league, they’ve got good players, some of the most expensive players in the world as well. Having a look at that game at the weekend, it was close. We’ve obviously had a look at them and we believe we have the ability to turn them over at their home. It’s about being smart.

“I do understand it’s an important competition. It’s also important for us to finish in the top eight in the URC – that’s our goal, because it allows us to get into the Champions Cup. And that will always remain our goal.

“In saying that, we’ve got a good enough team to challenge for the European Challenge Cup. We see all competitions as important.”  

Duhan van der Merwe is available for selection on Friday after missing the game in Belfast with concussion, but Darcy Graham and Emiliano Boffelli are still a week or two away from their return from injury. Skinner, who has an injured knee, may be back for the second leg against Glasgow.

There is at present no timescale for the return of Scott Steele. The scrum-half has been out of action since being injured in the pre-season friendly against Connacht, and at present needs to keep resting.

“Scott has got a hip condition that we’re trying to work around at the moment,” Everitt explained. “He’s struggling with that hip and he’s had a second opinion on it. So unfortunately for him at the moment it’s just about rest – there’s no time frame.”

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About Stuart Bathgate 1363 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.