JACK Blain gets his reward for a run of fine displays at club and representative level today [Saturday] when he makes his competitive debut for Edinburgh in the crunch PRO14 match against Benetton. The Heriot’s and Scotland Under-20s wing became the first player born this century to turn out for either pro team when he took the field in the pre-season friendly against Bath, and in the months since has impressed Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill with his commitment as well as the quality of his play.
“He’s been training very well, he’s played very well for the 20s,” Cockerill said after naming Blain on the right wing for the Conference B match in Treviso. “He played in pre-season against Bath, he’s been training with us the whole season, scored a couple of tries last week for the Under-20s, and he’s the next winger within our group. He gets an opportunity to make his debut.
“Obviously there’s a few guys missing, and Dougie Fife hasn’t recovered from last week, so it’s an opportunity to give a young man a game that’s important. That’s the whole point of having an academy system, as Darcy Graham has come through in the last 18 months. Jack gets the opportunity and I’m delighted for him and looking forward to seeing how he goes.”
Fife misses out because of the head knock he sustained in last week’s defeat by Cardiff, while Duhan van der Merwe is sidelined after gashing his knee in that game. Bill Mata is also missing with a tight hamstring, but as things stand all three should be available for Edinburgh’s next game, against Leinster in three weeks.
In any case, those absences are offset by the availability of Henry Pyrgos and Chris Dean after being away on Scotland duty, and by the return from injury of Hamish Watson and WP Nel. “Hamish has been training pretty much fully from a conditioning point of view since he got injured, because it was a hand issue,” Cockerill added. “So now he’s comfortable and ready to play. And with WP coming in too, that’s good. Obviously they’ll be limited in their game time, but they start and will play a good portion of the game.
“With injuries, especially in that back three, and the back five of the scrum – Barclay still missing, Luke Hamilton, Bill Mata – we’re pretty short. But we’ve got a decent team, we’ve prepared well all week, and we go there with the mindset of looking to win the game.
“We’ve got to go there and put our best game out there. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re at our best, because we’re going to need to be – because they’re a good team, and with the players we have missing and some of the inexperience that we have on the field, we’re going to have to be at our best.”
Benetton are currently second in the conference, four points ahead of fourth-placed Edinburgh, and with a demanding run of games to end the season, defeat here would cause serious damage to the Scottish team’s hopes of making the play-offs. “Benetton are as good as anybody else in the competition,” Cockerill added. “They’re one of the form teams, so no taking that away from them.
“But they’re all critical, the five games. We lose tomorrow and we’re going to drop seven, potentially eight points behind Treviso. So we need to make sure that we win as many games as we can. It’s a tough run-in, but we’ve just got to keep plugging away. There’s plenty of pinch points around injuries and selection with the national team and that obviously impacts down into our group and at this point we haven’t got a deep enough squad to be losing all those guys – the Test duty plus the injured guys we’ve got at the moment as well.
“But we’ve got a good group of lads that are going to work very hard tomorrow and we’re going to go and try and win a game, as simple as that. We have every intention of doing that, and that will be our mindset.”