EDINBURGH have, as expected, included both WP Nel and Hamish Watson in their squad for tomorrow’s PRO14 match against Benetton, meaning all being well the two forwards will feature in the Scotland squad to play Wales at Murrayfield next weekend. Henry Pyrgos and Chris Dean also return, having missed out on last week’s agonising defeat by Cardiff because they had travelled to Paris as cover for the national squad.
The good news about that quartet, however, is balanced by the unavailability of Dougie Fife, Duhan van der Merwe and Bill Mata, all of whom were injured in that 19-17 defeat. Head coach Richard Cockerill had hoped earlier in the week that Fife would have recovered from the head knock that forced him off against the Blues.
Eight players are still unavailable because of Scotland commitments: Simon Berghan, Magnus Bradbury, Allan Dell, Grant Gilchrist, Darcy Graham, Blair Kinghorn, Stuart McInally and Jamie Ritchie.
There are six personnel changes in all from the team that started last week’s match, four in the backs. Tom Brown comes in at full-back for Fife, Dean returns in place of Juan Pablo Socino, Jack Blain is on the left wing in place of Van der Merwe and Pyrgos takes over at scrum-half from Nathan Fowles. Up front, Nel replaces Pietro Ceccarelli at tighthead prop, while Watson is an indirect replacement for Mata in the back row. Ally Miller moves from blindside to No 8, Mata’s normal position position, and Luke Crosbie switches to blindside to allow Watson to return at openside.
“It’s a huge game for us and it’s a huge game in the context of the conference,” Cockerill said. “We’ve had a couple of defeats in the last few games and they are four points above us. We need to win.
“Benetton are a good side. They are the third best form team in the league after Munster and Leinster. They haven’t lost many games and they have picked off some big scalps in the league recently in Glasgow and Scarlets. They had a huge win against Dragons last weekend as well.
“It will be a very tough match, but the momentum of our season will swing if we can go there and win. That’s the reality of the game and that’s our objective. We’ve got to be hungry to go there and win.”
Edinburgh (v Benetton Rugby at Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Saturday, kick-off 3pm GMT, live on Premier Sports and Free Sports): Tom Brown; Damien Hoyland, James Johnstone, Chris Dean, Jack Blain; Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos (captain); Pierre Schoeman, David Cherry, WP Nel, Fraser McKenzie, Callum Hunter-Hill, Luke Crosbie, Hamish Watson, Ally Miller. Substitutes: Ross Ford, Rory Sutherland, Pietro Ceccarelli, Ben Toolis, Senitiki Nayalo, Nathan Fowles, Simon Hickey, Mark Bennett.
Benetton: Luca Sperandio; Ratuva Tavuyara, Marco Zanon, Alberto Sgarbi (captain), Monty Ioane; Ian McKinley, Dewaldt Duvenage; Nicola Quaglio, Tomas Baravalle, Marco Riccioni, Irne Herbst, Niccolo Cannone, Marco Lazzaroni, Giovanni Pettinelli, Toa Halafihi. Substitutes: Hame Faiva, Derrick Appiah, Tiziano Pasquali, Robert Barbieri, Marco Barbini, Giorgio Bronzini, Antonio Rizzi, Tommaso Benvenuti.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland).