EDINBURGH head coach Mike Blair says he is try to keep players fresh and reward form after making nine changes to the starting XV he sent out against the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg last Saturday, ahead of tomorrow night’s final Challenge Cup pool match against Pau at the DAM Health Stadium. Edinburgh’s progression to the last 16 of Europe’s second-tier competition is already assured, but they need a win to secure a home draw in the knock-out phase.
Senior players Mark Bennett, James Lang, Blair Kinghorn, Ben Vellacott, Emiliano Boffelli, Dave Cherry and Hamish Watson have dropped out of the match-day 23 altogether, as has youngster Ben Muncaster, who has been in fine form during the international window but is listed as unavailable. Kinghorn and Watson are not available due to the player welfare protocols which are in place for national squad members.
Blair has spiced up his midfield with the selection of inexperience duo Matt Currie and Cammy Hutchison in the centre, although they will have experienced half-backs Jaco van der Walt and Henry Pyrgos on their inside.
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In the pack, WP Nel drops to the bench and is replaced at tight-head by Luan De Bruin, while captain Grant Gilchrist is joined in the engine-room by Marshall Sykes. Intriguingly, Glen Young is selected at blindside flanker, and with Jamie Hodgson and Pierce Phillips both named on the bench, there are five players in the squad who would ordinarily be regarded as principally second-rows.
“Pau will be a huge test for us but it’s a challenge I know our guys are up for,” said Blair. “They can’t wait to get back out there under the Friday night lights after a really positive two-week tour in South Africa.
“We make a number of changes to the starting line-up – partly to keep things fresh after a long flight home – but also because guys deserve their opportunity after training incredibly hard and impressing over the last few weeks.
“We love playing at DAM Health Stadium and it’s going to be brilliant to be back in front of our supporters once again. They bring an added energy on match night which has so often made the difference this season.”
Edinburgh (v Section Paloise at the DAM Health Stadium, 8pm GMT Friday): H Immelman; D Graham, M Currie, C Hutchison, R Moyano; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, S McInally, L De Bruin, M Sykes, G Gilchrist (captain), G Young, C Boyle, M Bradbury. Substitutes: A McBurney, B Venter, W Nel, J Hodgson, P Phillips, C Shiel, C Savala, C Dean.
Section Paloise: P Auradou; A Tuimaba, E Barrett, J Vatubua (c), V Pinto; T Debaes, A Levron; T Bordenave, I Calles, K Yaméogo, H Auradou, S Cummins, R Hewat, T Hamonou, J Joseph. Substitutes: L Rey, N Corato, L Ignace Vea, F Metz, G Habel Kuffner, C Lebail, Z Henry, T Carol.
Unavailable: Luke Crosbie, Sam Grahamslaw, Nick Haining, Damien Hoyland, James Johnstone, Viliame Mata, Ben Muncaster, Jamie Ritchie, Ben Toolis
Quite a few surprises in this squad, I don’t even know some of the starters. I hope the bench is strong enough to get involved if things go badly.
Surely you should know these players… all have featured multiple times this season
An interesting selection, always a bit of a gamble when we rest players or bring forward new faces. A fairly heavy approach up front but still an exciting back line if they get ball on the front foot. Could need a more pragmatic game plan as the new combinations try to gel.
Looking at the Pau team, they have had a recent run of good wins including against Bordeaux but there looks to be few first team regulars and may be concentrating on the Top 14.
Either way, the opportunity is there for a number of players to stake a claim for more game time and secure an important home advantage.
Good comments and as you say the selection surprises and looks a bit of a gamble. 5 second row forwards an interesting example but with 5 back row forwards unavailable and Watson rested I suppose Blair has limited options.