EDINBURGH head coach Richard Cockerill has named Blair Kinghorn as starting stand-off in Sunday’s Champions Cup round of 16 clash away to Racing 92, with Jaco van der Walt dropping to the bench.
Kinghorn moved from his usual full-back role to the No10 slot when van der Walt suffered a dead-leg midway through the first half of last Sunday’s match against the Dragons, and helped inspire a rousing second half fightback from the inexperienced side based on a looser, more expansive game-plan. Edinburgh still came up short in the match but won that second 40 minute period 12-0, and Cockerill appears to have seen enough to be convinced that it is an approach worth persevering with.
With Edinburgh’s international contingent returning, and Pierre Schoeman (knee) and Viliame Mata (concussion) back from injury, Kinghorn is one of only three players who started against the Dragons to retain their place in the team. The others are Henry Pyrgos at scrum-half, and Magnus Bradbury switching from No8 to second-row.
“The headline is probably Blair at 10, which I thought was the best selection for this week, going into the game with attitude to go and play and really take the game to Racing,” said Cockerill. “Jaco has not been able to play much over the past few weeks.
“Ball in hand, he [Kinghorn] is a threat. He is very off-the-cuff and creates opportunities because he is naturally instinctive and quick. Obviously, there are bits of game control that are lacking a bit because it is not his natural position, but I thought it was the right decision for this week. It is a bold selection, but one that is very much worth the risk.
“He is very instinctive when he gets front-foot ball. He is very dangerous and understands the game well. He sees the pictures in front of him really well. If there are opportunities to attack he will see them and hopefully will exploit them.
“We wanted to get good minutes into Jaco last week but he had a dead leg and hasn’t been able to train until today. I felt it was the right thing to pick Blair because I think it suits our game this weekend.”
“We’re pleased to welcome a number of quality players back into the side,” Cockerill added
“Our best is enough to compete with any team and we’ll certainly need to put our best performance out there this Sunday, when we get to have a crack at one of the top teams in Europe. How we deal with that challenge will be the mark of this group.
“We’ve had some great results against some of the big sides in France in the past, however we’re under no illusions how big a challenge this weekend will be.
“It’s the kind of challenge that any competitor would relish and we’ve some quality and very competitive individuals lining up for us this weekend, looking to go out there and do something special for the club.”
Edinburgh (v Racing 92 at Paris La Defense Arena, Sunday 12.30pm): D Hoyland; D Graham, J Johnstone, G Taylor, D van der Merwe; B Kinghorn, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, D Cherry, W Nel, M Bradbury, G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, H Watson, V Mata. Subs: M Willemse, B Venter, S Berghan M Kunavula, L Crosbie, C Shiel, J van der Walt, M Bennett.
Racing 92: K Beale; T Thomas, V Vakatawa, H Chavancy©, L Dupichot; A Gibert, M Machenaud; E Ben Arous, C Chat, C Gomes, B Le Roux, Ryan, I Diallo, B Chouzenoux, J Joseph. Subs: T Baubigny, G Gogichashvili, A Oz, D Bird, B Palu, T Iribaren, F Trinh-Duc, S Zebo.