EDINBURGH have been boosted by the arrival of three members of the Scotland squad as they prepare to resume their PRO14 campaign against the Cheetahs tonight, but Richard Cockerill’s team will still be up against it in Bloemfontein.
Hooker Neil Cochrane starts, while scrum-half Nathan Fowles and back-row forward Magnus Bradbury are on the bench, having been released by national coach Gregor Townsend to join their team-mates in South Africa. The availability of Cochrane in particular is a boon, given the shortage of front-row players because of injury, and Cockerill is eagerly awaiting more reinforcements before next week’s game against the Kings.
“They’ve all come out late, but it’s good to have them,” the head coach said of his Scotland players. “Without those guys we would certainly be short of numbers in certain positions.
“Scotland obviously takes priority, but Gregor [Townsend] has been pretty sensible in helping us as much as he can. We’re grateful for getting these guys out even if they are late, and we’ll do our best to try to get a positive result this week. We’ll have a few more joining us after the Australia game.”
South African winger Duhan van der Merwe will make his debut for Edinburgh, as will his compatriot Jaco van der Walt if he comes off the bench. Murray McCallum makes his first start at tighthead prop in a team that shows seven changes in total from the one that beat the Ospreys in their last outing at the start of the month.
“Overall we’ve prepared well,” Cockerill continued. “We’ve put the best team out that we possibly could, and we’ll endeavour to get as many points out of the game as we can. It’s not been a perfect week, for sure, but it has been good enough. We trust the squad to do a job for us. Despite a number of guys missing, it is a good squad.”
One of those missing is Robbie Fruean, who has now been out for a number of weeks. Edinburgh have not gone into too much detail about the absence of the New Zealander, who had heart surgery several years ago and needs to be carefully monitored. While not suggesting that the centre was out because of a heart problem, Cockerill admitted that it was not entirely clear what was wrong with him.
“At the moment he’s unavailable to play. He’s not available for selection because he’s not been feeling very well. He’s had some sickness, so he’s not fit to play.
“At the moment we’re just trying to get to the bottom of it. He’s had a viral infection and he’s trying to shake that off at the moment. He’s on antibiotics to try to get rid of the infection.”
The Cheetahs are third in Conference A, four points clear of Connacht, after winning four of their first eight games. Edinburgh are fourth in Conference B, four behind third-placed Leinster. “The Cheetahs have played very well at home and have only lost there to Glasgow,” Cockerill added. “They play a quick and very physical brand of rugby and it will be a real test for us.”
Edinburgh (v Cheetahs at Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, Friday 5.30pm GMT): B Kinghorn; D Fife, J Johnstone, C Dean, D van der Merwe; J Tovey, S Hidalgo-Clyne; M Rizzo, N Cochrane, M McCallum, A Bresler, F McKenzie, L Carmichael, L Crosbie, W Mata. Substitutes: C Fenton, R Sutherland, K Bryce, C Hunter-Hill, M Bradbury, N Fowles, J van der Walt, J Rasolea.
Cheetahs: C Blommetjies; L Obi, W Small-Smith, N Lee, M Mapimpi; F Zeilinga, S Venter; C Marais, T van Jaarsveld, J Coetzee, C Wegner, R Hugo, P Schoeman, R Bernardo, J Pokomela. Substitutes: J du Toit, O Nche, T Botha, J Wiese, D Maartens, T Meyer, T Kruger, C Barry.