Edinburgh face anxious wait for news on release of Scotland contingent

Darcy Graham, James Johnstone and Henry Pyrgos among players who may become available for Cardiff clash

Edinburgh have yet to learn whether James Johnstone and several other players will be available to face Cardiff on Saturday night. Image: © Craig Watson www.craigwatson.co.uk

EDINBURGH may well get their smallest crowd of the season when they take on  Cardiff on Saturday night, but the significance of the fixture could hardly be higher as the fight for a PRO14 play-off place intensifies. The capital team are back up to second in Conference B after last week’s five-try win over the Dragons, but with only five points separating them from fifth-placed Scarlets there is still a lot of work to be done before a top-three place is ensured.

A 7.35pm kick-off on the same day that Scotland play France and Wales meet England is not the greatest scheduling, as Duncan Hodge admitted. But the assistant coach is confident that his team are in good shape to put in another convincing performance.

“We’re used to night-time games,” he said this afternoon (Tuesday). “You want to play in front of as many people as possible, so it’s a big ask for people to watch Scotland-France, then Wales-England and then get off your sofa and come to Murrayfield, but hopefully people do. We’ve been going well, we’ve got a good home record, so hopefully we get a big crowd, the weather’s good and that’ll really help us as a team. So let’s hope people come and watch.”

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Which Edinburgh players those people will be coming to watch has yet to be decided. The coaches hope to get several players back from the Scotland camp, but do not expect to know for sure until Wednesday night, by which time the national team’s selectors should have finalised their squad to face France.

“There are still question marks over who, if any, we’ll get back,” Hodge explained. “The guys who’ve been on the fringes – Henry Pyrgos, Chris Dean, Darcy Graham, James Johnstone, Luke Crosbie – those are the guys who haven’t featured for Scotland, but in terms of injuries for Scotland could feature, so they’re the ones who are up in the air.

“I think [we will know] by the end of tomorrow night. I think Scotland are training tomorrow, so they’ll probably have finished training tomorrow and anyone that isn’t required by them will then get handed back. The other issue is that they’re playing on Saturday, as are we, and they probably don’t just take 23 players. They’ll probably take a couple of spares as well.”

Whoever they get back, the encouraging thing for Edinburgh is that they had a depleted squad last week but still beat the Dragons 34-17, running in 20 unanswered second-half points after going in at the break three points behind. “We weren’t unduly worried,” Hodge continued. “We gave them a soft score, but in general terms we had some really good stuff in the first half. We felt the score maybe shouldn’t have been as it was.

“And then in the second half we played much better. There was definitely some areas to tighten up from the first half and we sorted that out. We were a bit rusty, but overall if you’d said we would score 34, 35 points against Dragons . . . . Because they’re a much better team than they were. They didn’t have masses off the bench, but they’re an improved side and we were missing a lot of guys. We were happy.”

However, the Blues, still on the fringes of the play-off fight in Conference A,  are tougher opponents, as Hodge acknowledged. “Cardiff are a good side – they’ve got some really good attackers. They’re quite quirky in defence: they put a lot of pressure on the ball. They’re quite hard to analyse a bit, but they’re a good side and obviously they’ve got an ability to score points.

“They potentially don’t miss too many [Wales players]. I think they got three or four back last week, so whether they’ll get them back or not I’ve no idea.”

Meanwhile, backs Jason Baggott and George Taylor and prop Jack Stanley have become the latest players to commit their future to Edinburgh. All three have signed one-year deals, Stanley’s as a partnership with Watsonians, who will be in the Super 6 next season.

“We’re really happy that all three boys have extended their stay at the club,” head coach Richard Cockerill said in a statement released by the team to announce the new contracts. “Both George and Jason have come through the Fosroc Scottish Rugby Academy to make their debut for the club, whilst Jack has developed really well since arriving in the summer. They all work tirelessly every day in training and will no doubt continue that work ethic into next season.”

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About Stuart Bathgate 1430 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.