RICHARD COCKERILL believes that four of his Edinburgh players have done enough during the last 12 to 18 months to be genuine contenders to make the British and Irish Lions squad for this summer’s trip to South Africa – but has warned that it could quite easily be the case that his club does not feature at all when Warren Gatland names his 36-strong tour party on Thursday morning.
The arguments for and against Hamish Watson‘s inclusion have been well rehearsed in recent weeks, back-row partner Jamie Ritchie would be more a left-field call-up, winger Duhan van Der Merwe‘s try-scoring exploits since making his international debut last October – eight tries in 10 matches – has put him in the frame, and loose-head prop Rory Sutherland is in a race against time to be fit again after suffering a shoulder injury during Scotland’s victory over France back at the end of March.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Duhan was well in the mix to get picked,” said Cockerill. “The timing for him couldn’t have been better in terms of qualifying to play for Scotland, scoring lots of tries and making lots of metres. He is very quick, very powerful, and there has been some injuries in and around that wing spot with Jonny May being potentially out and George North definitely out.
“Then there is Suz [Sutherland] who has put himself in the frame. His rehab is going well. He’s out on the field doing lots of running and whatever he can at the gym to strengthen that shoulder. Exact timescales can’t be given, but if selected it will be tight.
“But he’s working hard and is very optimistic around being fit sooner rather than later, so we’ll just have to see. Those discussions will be had with our medical team and if they are being shared with the Lions selectors then I don’t know that.
“Jamie Ritchie wouldn’t be out of consideration and Hamish Watson had a very good Six Nations, so you would like to think that some of those guys are in the mix,” he added.
“But to pick 36 out of all those players is going to be tough and we could easily have none – so it’ll be a nervous half an hour for some guys on Thursday. Hopefully we will at least get a couple in there if we are lucky.”
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Meanwhile, hooker Stuart McInally – who could well have been another Lions hopeful were it not for the neck injury he suffered back in January which ruled him out of the Six Nations – is back in full training and set to make his comeback in Friday night’s 1872 Cup decider against Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun.
However, 20-year-old outside-centre Matt Currie – who impressed in his first start for the club when scoring a try in a 24-18 victory over Zebre last time out – will not be involved.
“Stu is training fully and available for selection,” explained Cockerill. “Unfortunately, Matt is not available after he injured his shoulder playing an internal trial game for Scotland Under- 20s last Thursday, which is a shame because it would have been good to see him in action again.
“The rest of the young guys who stood up [against Zebre] will be in and around the match-day 23, or even the starting 15, for the next couple of games,” he added. “Obviously, there is a bit of silverware up for grabs on Friday which both teams are pretty keen to win, but for us it will be about getting the balance of selection right and using it as an opportunity for some guys to get more experience in big games.
“For me, the rest of this season is more about preparing for next year. This season has been tough for all sorts of reasons, and while the 1872 Cup is important in the city I don’t think it will rescue the season for either team.”
Cockerill also shot down rumours about Sutherland following the lead of van der Merwe by moving to English Premiership side Worcester Warriors ahead of next season. The Hawick-man was first linked with a switch to Sixways back in December, but Edinburgh have remained adamant that this is nothing more than a kite-flying exercise because the player is not available.
“Rory is under contract until the end of next season and that’s it,” stated Cockeril. “He won’t be released from his contract. He’s an Edinburgh player until his contract runs out, and from an Edinburgh and Scotland point of view we’d like to keep him long-term. It is as simple as that really – there is no truth in that whatsoever.”