WILLEM Nel is back in the Edinburgh front row for Friday night’s PRO14 match against Ulster – the only voluntary change made by Richard Cockerill to the starting line-up that lost to the Ospreys last week. The Scotland tighthead replaces Simon Berghan, who loses his place in the squad, with Murray McCallum again starting on the bench.
Hamish Watson is out as his partner is expecting the birth of their first child, and his place in the back-row goes to Jamie Ritchie. On the wing, Duhan van der Merwe has been sidelined after sustaining a head knock in the 17-13 defeat in Wales, and his place goes to Tom Brown.
Cockerill had said last week that Nel would be available for the trip to Belfast following his recovery from injury, and earlier this week the coach explained that he did not intend to make sweeping changes for this game. While the team as a whole underperformed in Wales, Berghan is the only one to have paid the price, and will now play for Boroughmuir in their home Tennent’s Premiership match against Hawick on Saturday.
“I thought Simon was a little bit short of match fitness – he wasn’t as match-hardened as I would like,” Cockerill explained. “So he’ll go and play club rugby this weekend to get minutes under his belt. Murray stays on the bench because he played well.
“WP has been training well the last couple of weeks and it’s good to have his experience back in. His set piece will be vital for us.
“He’s important. When he’s fit he plays well and is as good as anyone around. It’s his first start, and our scrum creaked a little bit last week, so I’m hoping his presence will add that bit of ballast and know-how to that set piece.”
Summer recruit Pierre Schoeman, arguably the team’s best player against the Ospreys, continues at loosehead, with Allan Dell on the bench. That means there is again no place for Darryl Marfo, who like Berghan is available for Boroughmuir
“He did a full pre-season but can’t get in the 23 at the moment,” Cockerill said of Marfo. “He had a big autumn last year. He got injured, was out for a few months and didn’t quite get back into the squad until towards the end of the season.
“Allan Dell has been first choice for Scotland over the summer. Schoeman has come in well with ball in hand and is settling in very well. There is good competition. All looseheads, including [Rory] Sutherland, will be involved if they earn their right to do so.”
Magnus Bradbury, meanwhile, will begin his return from injury with a game for Melrose against Glasgow Hawks. “Maggie hasn’t played a minute since Scotland’s summer tour,” Cockerill continued. “He’s had this calf problem which he’s now over. It’s about getting minutes under his belt and knocking that rustiness off.
“There are lots of guys who will play club rugby. I don’t see it as a punishment – I see it as a good thing and I want players to go, play for their clubs, be very committed to that and then come back into the team and squad as and when needed. The players are not a protected species. If they’re not involved with our squad they don’t get a weekend off. If they’re fit they should be playing club rugby. I think that’s a very good way of managing players.”
Ulster, who have just secured the services of scrum-half John Cooney until 2022 thanks to a three-year contract extension, have injury problems of their own. Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale are both sidelined with hamstring problems, while Kyle McCall had elbow surgery earlier this week and will be out of action for around three months.
Head coach Dan McFarland has made four changes to the team that enjoyed a narrow win over Scarlets last week, including bringing in openside Jordi Murphy for his debut. The other three alterations are also in the pack: Rob Herring captains the team at hooker, Ross Kane is alongside him in the front row, and Kieran Treadwell comes in at lock.
Edinburgh (v Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium, Friday, 7.35pm, live on Premier Sports): B Kinghorn; D Fife, M Bennett, M Scott, T Brown; S Hickey, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, S McInally, W Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, L Hamilton, J Ritchie, V Mata. Substitutes: R Ford, A Dell, M McCallum, F McKenzie, L Crosbie, S Kennedy, J van der Walt, J Johnstone.
Ulster: W Addison; C Gilroy, D Cave, S McCloskey, H Speight; B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick, R Herring, R Cane, K Treadwell, I Henderson, M Coetzee, J Murphy, N Timoney. Substitutes: A McBurney, E O’Sullivan, W Herbst, A O’Connor, S Reidy, D Shanahan, A Curtis, A Kernahan.
Referee: S Berry (South Africa).
Ulster v Edinburgh will be live on Premier Sports 1 this Friday at 7.35pm – click HERE to find out more and subscribe