BASED on the fact that the home side were serious contenders for a play-off finish in one of the three elite professional leagues in European rugby and reached the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup last season, while the away team stumbled to a ninth place finish in the second-tier English Championship and is populated by several players who moved south after failing to make the grade in Scotland, this pre-season friendly should theoretically be a one-sided affair.
But Edinburgh assistant coach Duncan Hodge is not so sure. For one thing, those players who found a home at London Scottish after being rejected north of the Border will arrive at Murrayfield feeling they have something to prove – which makes them dangerous.
“In the last couple of years they have maybe not been as strong as they were previously, but they’ve still got some good players,” reasoned Hodge. “Lewis Wynne, James Malcom and Bobby Beattie are all there, so they’ll be a good side. They’ve got a couple of good coaches in Stevie Scott [former Scotland and Edinburgh forward coach] and Graham Steadman [former Scotland defence coach] so I’m sure they’ll be well coached, and they’ll be keen to impress.”
And then there is the not so small matter of Edinburgh’s disappointing end to last season, when heavy back-to-back losses against Ulster and Glasgow Warriors put paid to their play-off ambitions and demonstrated that there is still a brittleness to this side despite the very obvious progress which has been made under head coach Richard Cockerill these last two years.
“We look back at the last month of last season and it still leaves a real sour taste,” acknowledged Hodge. “Post Munster [in the Champions Cup quarter-final], we fell off a cliff – we fired no shots in attack, had nothing in defence, we lacked energy and ambition. It just wasn’t like us because up until that point we had played some great rugby.
“We need to show that we’re still evolving, and tomorrow will be a great marker for us in terms of how we play with and without the ball. There is bound to be teething problems and mistakes, but we’ll learn a lot from how we approach the task.
“If that [end of season collapse] hadn’t happened and we had finished third, would it have prompted as much questioning of ourselves and motivation to do better, so let’s see at as a positive as we look forward.”
Strength in depth
Edinburgh – who are without their World Cup hopefuls – have named a 30-man squad for this match, with the starting XV being being led by Chris Dean from inside centre.
“He’s been around a while now,” said Hodge. “He started his career in the back-row and it took him a wee while to transition, but he played really well last year and the year before. He’s passionate about Edinburgh, he’s very articulate and he has a mindset where he knows what he wants.
Meanwhile, Damian Hoyland, who has played most of his senior rugby on the wing, is selected at full-back. “I think it will really suit him,” insisted Hodge. “He’s got good feet, he’s aggressive, he carries the ball back well. We probably don’t kick masses from 15 so it will give him a good chance to run back and do what he’s good at.
In the pack, Nick Haining, recruited at the end of last season from Bristol Bears, will make his first appearance for the club at No 8.
And while second-row Murray Douglas isn’t making his debut, it might as well be given that his one and only previous appearance for the club was off the bench seven and a half years ago, when he was playing for Heriot’s in the Scottish Premiership, before moving to Australia and winning a place in the Melbourne Rebels’ Super Rugby roster, followed by stints with the Hurricanes in New Zealand and the Brumbies back in Australia.
Six players are listed as injured. Winger Duhan van der Merwe is recovering after having his tonsils removed, back-five forward Lewis Carmichael is in the final stages of recovering from the ACL injury which wrecked last season, recently arrived Fijian flanker Mesu Kunavula is recovering from a summer tidy-up shoulder operation, hooker Cammy Fenton has a head-knock and flanker Rory Darge is over the knee injury which kept him out the second half of last season but has now rolled his ankle. All five are expected to be back in the two to five weeks.
South African hooker Mike Willemse might not return quite so quickly from a knee injury suffered in training, but “not massively” longer according to Hodge.
Edinburgh (team to face London Scottish at Murrayfield on Saturday – kick-off 2pm): Damien Hoyland; Jamie Farndale, Mark Bennett, Chris Dean CAPTAIN, Dougie Fife; Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos; Rory Sutherland, Dave Cherry, Pietro Ceccarelli, Fraser McKenzie, Murray Douglas, Ally Miller, Luke Crosbie, Nick Haining.
Subs: Pierre Schoeman, Darryl Marfo, Ewan Ashman, Murray McCallum, Jack Stanley, Jamie Hodgson, Connor Boyle, Charlie Shiel, Nic Groom, Matt Scott, Simon Hickey, Jack Blain, James Johnstone, Sam Pecqueur, Tom Brown