MIKE Blair has changed two-thirds of his team for tomorrow night’s crunch URC game against Ulster, bringing back a number of key players who were rested from last week’s lacklustre win against Zebre.
After a two-match suspension, Willem Nel is back at tighthead, while Luke Crosbie and Damien Hoyland return from long-term injuries to take their places in the back row and on the right wing respectively. James Lang, Emiliano Boffelli and Ben Vellacott are the other backs who have been restored for this game, while Stuart McInally, captain Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Hodgson and Magnus Bradbury all return to the pack.
Pierre Schoeman and Hamish Watson are the only forwards who are retained, while in the back division Jaco van der Walt, Mark Bennett and Blair Kinghorn are the three who hold on to their jerseys.
Edinburgh are seventh after the bonus-point win over Zebre and can finally ensure themselves of a top-eight finish if they win tonight. However, their principal aim remains a top-four place and the home quarter-final that goes with it – something that remains very much within their grasp as they are only three points off second place at present.
Ulster, just two points better off in fifth place, are in a very similar position. Their last regular-season game is at home to the Sharks, while Edinburgh complete their programme with the return match against Glasgow at BT Murrayfield.
“We’ve talked a lot this season about constantly being in the moment, and that mind set is something we need to continue this weekend as we face perhaps the biggest test so far at DAM Health Stadium,” head coach Blair said after naming his team. “Ulster are an excellent side with a number of dangerous players so we know that we have to be switched on from the very first whistle.
“The home crowd are going to have a huge part to play on Saturday night and it’s been absolutely brilliant to see the number of tickets sold throughout the week as we approach the club’s very first sell-out at the DAM Health. Running out in front of a full house will be a special moment for the players and hopefully it will act as a catalyst for a special performance.”
Lock Marshall Sykes is beginning a three-week suspension after his sending-off last week, although that is expected to be cut to two if he takes a URC coaching awareness course. Eleven other players are listed as unavailable, mainly through previously-known injuries: Luan de Bruin, Darcy Graham, Nick Haining, Henry Immelman, Viliame Mata, Ramiro Moyano, Jamie Ritchie, Ben Toolis, Boan Venter, Angus Williams and Glen Young.
Edinburgh (against Ulster at the DAM Health Stadium, Saturday 7.35pm): J van der Walt; D Hoyland, M Bennett, J Lang, E Boffelli; B Kinghorn, B Vellacott; P Schoeman, S McInally, W Nel, J Hodgson, G Gilchrist (captain), L Crosbie, H Watson, M Bradbury. Substitutes: D Cherry, H Courtney, L Atalifo, P Phillips, B Muncaster, H Pyrgos, C Dean, M Currie.
Ulster: M Lowry; R Baloucoune, J Hume, S McCloskey, E McIlroy; W Burns, N Doak; A Warwick, R Herring, G Milasinovich, K Treadwell, I Henderson (captain), M Rea, N Timoney, D Vermeulen. Substitutes: B Roberts, E O’Sullivan, R Kane, A O’Connor, M Rea, J Cooney, S Moore, R Lyttle.
Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales).