EDINBURGH will be without a handful of the club’s most influential players for their 2020-21 PRO14 season opener at home to Ospreys tomorrow [Saturday] night, including flanker Jamie Ritchie who is unavailable for selection to comply with the necessary Scottish Government Covid-19 isolation protocols and to “protect the medical integrity of the wider squad”.
“Jamie misses out this week as he’s been in contact with a family member who is currently self-isolating due to a potential contact,” explained head coach Richard Cockerill. “He hasn’t tested positive, but we’re being extra cautious and following all the necessary Scottish Government Covid-19 protocols.”
Elsewhere, full-back Blair Kinghorn (shoulder) and loose-head prop Rory Sutherland (back) have dropped out of the team which started against Bordeaux-Begles a fortnight ago due to injury. Scrum-half Nic Groom (calf) and winger Duhan van der Merwe (calf) were expected back in the side having missed that match but haven’t made it in time, while No 8 Viliame Mata (ankle), second-row Fraser McKenzie (shoulder) and scrum-half Henry Pyrgos (concussion) had already been ruled out earlier this week.
The good news for Cockerill and Edinburgh fans is that neither of the newly injured men appears to be a long-term concern. Kinghorn hurt his shoulder in training but could have played this week had Cockerill not decided to wrap him in cotton-wool ahead of next Saturday’s trip to Munster, and Sutherland had a back spasm in the gym earlier this week. Meanwhile, Van der Merwe and Groom are also expected back next week. Pyrgos is a ‘length of string’ type of scenario, as concussions tend to be.
In total, Cockerill has made six changes to the side which started that European Challenge Cup quarter-final in Bordeaux.
Jamie Farndale comes onto the left wing and Damian Hoyland switches to full-back, while a fully fit again Mark Bennett is at outside centre in place of James Johnstone, and Chris Dean returns to the starting XV at inside centre in place of George Taylor, who is on the bench. Jaco van der Walt and Charlie Shiel continue at half-back.
A reshuffled back row sees Nick Haining, Magnus Bradbury and Luke Crosbie all handed starts with Hamish Watson dropping to the bench. It is an unchanged tight five, while WP Nel returns from injury to sit on the bench.
“We’ve had a little bit of downtime, but we’ve been back in this week and trained well in preparation for the new season,” said Cockerill.
“We’ve had some pretty good preparation. Glasgow twice, Ulster and Bordeaux – that’s the toughest pre-season we’ve played. We’ve got to use that experience and we’ll look to put our best team on the field and go try to get as many points as we can.
“We’ll be well prepped and we’ve got a good record at BT Murrayfield. We want to get off to a good start at home.”
Edinburgh (v Ospreys at BT Murrayfield, Saturday @ 7.35pm): D Hoyland; D Graham, M Bennett, C Dean, J Farndale; J van der Walt; C Shiel; P Schoeman, S McInally ©, S Berghan, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, L Crosibie, N Haining. Substitutes: D Cherry, J Bhatti, W Nel, A Davidson, H Watson, D Chamberlain, G Taylor.
Ospreys: D Evans; M Protheroe, O Watkin, K Williams, L Morgan; S Myler, R Webb; N Smith, S Parry, T Botha, A Beard, A Wyn Jones, O Cracknell, J Tipuri, M Morris. Substitutes: D Lake, R Jones, M Fia, B Davies, D Lydiate, R Morgan-Williams, J Thomas, T Thomas-Wheeler.
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)