ROSS Ford is unable to play for Edinburgh tonight and is a doubt for the Autumn Tests after sustaining a pectoral injury while training with the Scotland squad. The news about the 33-year-old emerged when Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill announced his squad for this evening’s PRO14 match against the Ospreys, with Neil Cochrane in the No 2 jersey and Cammy Fenton in line to make his competitive debut.
The other two hookers in Gregor Townsend’s squad for the games against Samoa, New Zealand and Australia are Edinburgh’s Stuart McInally, who has been rested this weekend, and George Turner, who started for Glasgow against Leinster last night. Pat MacArthur was on the bench for the Warriors and would be the obvious choice to be called up as cover if Ford were to be ruled out. Fraser Brown, Glasgow’s first-choice hooker, was ruled out of the Autumn Tests last month because of a knee injury.
“He had an injury while in camp with Scotland, so we’re just trying to determine how long he’ll be out,” Cockerill said of Ford, who was out earlier in the season with a calf problem. “But he’s obviously not fit for this weekend.
“He got a pectoral injury, so we’re just waiting to see how long it’s going to be, but we’re not sure. He’s gone to see the specialist. Whether he’s fit for Scotland next weekend I don’t know. He’s with the Scotland squad and being assessed by their medical team.”
Of the 13 Edinburgh players in Townsend’s squad of 36, seven have been released to play the cross-conference match against the Ospreys: Dougie Fife, Phil Burleigh and Nathan Fowles among the backs; and Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie and Cornell du Preez up front. Partly because of that fact, and partly because, as Cockerill likes to say, the bulk of the wider Edinburgh squad is of a pretty even standard, the team selected for this match does not look conspicuously weak. Indeed, with former captain Magnus Bradbury on the bench and ready to return to action for the first time since his suspension, it has arguably been strengthened in one respect.
“We know Magnus is a very good player,” Cockerill added. “We’ve dealt with his disciplinary stuff and we move forward. He’s always applied himself in training.
“He’s on the bench because he’s working his way back. He hasn’t played for almost five weeks, and also Luke Crosbie has played very well. Jamie Ritchie and Cornell du Preez have played well too, so it’s difficult for him to push his way straight back into the team.”
Although the continued suspension of John Hardie is still casting a shadow over Edinburgh, the squad are in good spirits after winning their last four games – two in the league and two in the Challenge Cup. Cockerill knows it could be a tall order for his team to overtake any of the current top three in Conference B – Scarlets, Leinster and Ulster – and force their way into the end-of-season play-offs for the title, so his initial aim is to consolidate fourth place, which would put his team into a play-off for a slot in next season’s Champions Cup.
“We’ve now four points above Treviso, who are fifth in our conference, but the reality is that we’re probably not going to be as consistent as the three sides above us. We want to put some space between ourselves in fourth and everyone below us, because as a bare minimum that gives us the opportunity to qualify for Europe next season. That’s an important objective.
“So is putting pressure on the sides above us – we still have them all to play and we’d like to be in the mix so that we’ve got a chance of challenging for the top three. This isn’t a season-defining match by any means, but it would put distance between the guys below us and put pressure on the teams above us.”
The Ospreys have nine players unavailable because of international duty, including Rhys Webb, Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric. They are currently second bottom of Conference A, but could go up to fourth if they win and other results go their way – although naturally Cockerill hopes to be able to exploit their weaknesses.
“We haven’t got the depth of some other sides in the competition,” he added. “Ospreys are missing a considerable number of their most influential players, and although we’re missing a whole front row, one of our locks in Ben Toolis, and Hamish Watson in the back row, which does affect us a little bit, this is a chance for us to take advantage.
“We’re at home and we’re against an Ospreys side which if they were fully loaded and had all their players available that would clearly make them stronger than ourselves. So we’ve got to play what’s in front of us and take the opportunities when they arise – and this is one because they are certainly more affected by international call-ups than ourselves.”
Edinburgh (v Ospreys at Myreside, Saturday 4, kick-off 5.30pm): B Kinghorn; D Fife, J Johnstone, P Burleigh, T Brown; J Tovey, N Fowles; M Rizzo, N Cochrane, S Berghan, F McKenzie, G Gilchrist, L Crosbie, J Ritchie, C du Preez. Substitutes: C Fenton, R Sutherland, M McCallum, M Bradbury, L Carmichael, S Hidalgo-Clyne, G Bryce, C Dean.
Ospreys: D Evans; D Howells, J Hook, A Beck, T Habberfield; S Davies, B Leonard; P James, S Baldwin, D Arhip, L Ashley, B Davies, O Cracknell, G Mercer, R McCusker. Substitutes: S Parry, G Thomas, M Fia, R Thornton, J King, R Morgan-Williams, L Price, K Fonotia.