RICHARD Cockerill has selected a much-changed Edinburgh side for their last game of the season, the Rainbow Cup match against Scarlets on Sunday.
With nothing riding on the game in Llanelli, the head coach has omitted British & Irish Lions Hamish Watson and Duhan van der Merwe from the side that began last week’s narrow defeat by Ulster. Rory Sutherland, who is also about to go to South Africa with the tourists, is now close to being fully recovered from injury but will not make the trip to Wales either.
Cockerill is also without Ben Muncaster and Patrick Harrison from the squad that played last week, as both are about to join up with the Scotland Under-20 squad for the Six Nations Championship in Wales. Full-back Harry Paterson would have joined them, but he has now been forced to drop out of the squad after being injured making his debut in that 31-34 loss to Ulster. His place in Sean Lineen’s 32-man squad has gone to Alex Clayton of Bath University.
The alterations to the Edinburgh line-up begin at full-back, where Scotland Sevens international Kyle Rowe comes in for his first appearance. “He’s been in the sevens programme and has been with us for a little while,” Cockerill said. “He’s got some real pace and a good skill set, but hasn’t been pushed forwards before because he’s always going back to the sevens.
“He’s had a little bit of involvement with the GB sevens team too. He gives us a good opportunity to see what he can do and see if there could be further opportunities down the line.”
Centre Cammy Hutchison will play just his second Edinburgh game, while up front there will be a farewell appearance for hooker Mike Willemse. The five players who keep their places from last week are Eroni Sau, James Johnstone, Blair Kinghorn, Marshall Sykes and Jamie Ritchie.
Although Scarlets too have nothing to play for, Cockerill insisted that the game should not be regarded as a dead rubber. “For guys like Kyle, getting their first opportunity, but also for guys like Jamie Hodgson and Marshall Sykes, who are still learning their trade, every opportunity is an important one. Connor Boyle and Cammy Hutchison the same, while guys like Jack Blain who are away on the summer tour have everything to play for.
“I don’t think it’s a dead rubber by any means for us, and it’s a good opportunity for guys to get good experience and put themselves in a good place for next season. And motivation is an individual, personal thing so it’s down to the individual to be ready to play because they are going to be judged on how they play on Sunday afternoon.
“Jamie Ritchie is captain for us and for Scotland this summer, so he has a reputation that he plays well, and the young fellas are building a reputation. So there’s still plenty to play for.”
Ben Toolis, who only returned to action last week after five months on the sideline with a toe injury, has been ruled out again, this time because of knee damage. “He’s pretty gutted about that whole scenario,” the coach added. “But he’ll have the summer off and come back for pre-season. It’s the season that keeps on giving. Some of us will be glad to see the back of it.”
Counting Toolis, Edinburgh have listed 19 players as unavailable, the others being Magnus Bradbury, Matt Currie, Andrew Davidson, Andries Ferreira, Roan Frostwick, Dan Gamble, Grant Gilchrist, Darcy Graham, Nick Haining, Viliame Mata, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Dan Nutton, Freddie Owsley, Harry Paterson, Charlie Savala, Jaco van der Walt and Jordan Venter.
Despite insisting that the fixture was a meaningful one, Cockerill admitted he would be keeping an eye on the European Championships match between England and Croatia, which kicks off an hour later than his own team’s match. And, warming to the theme of football, he suggested he would have to go into hiding if England lose to Scotland at Wembley next Friday.
“I might get the game on my phone in the coaches’ box and watch both at the same time. We’ll see which one is more entertaining.
“But you know what it’s like – we’ll talk ourselves up, it’s coming home and all that. And then we’ll cock it up at some point along the way.
“The big one is on Friday, so I’ll need to meet up with my Scottish coaches and have a bit of banter around that. As long as England don’t lose to Scotland. Can you imagine the amount of shit I’m going to get if that happens?
“We can’t beat you at rugby, we can’t beat at cricket and can’t beat you at football. It’s going to be the perfect end to the perfect season if that happens! I’ll be going into hiding if we lose.”
Edinburgh (v Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets, Sunday 1pm): K Rowe; J Blain, J Johnstone, C Hutchison, E Sau; B Kinghorn, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, M Willemse, A Williams, M Sykes, J Hodgson, J Ritchie (captain), C Boyle, M Kunavula. Substitutes: D Cherry, B Venter, S Berghan, A Miller, L Crosbie, C Shiel, N Chamberlain, G Taylor.
Scarlets: T Rogers; R Conbeer, T Morgan, S Hughes, S Evans; D Jones, K Hardy; S Thomas, R Elias (captain), P Scholtz, J Helps, M Jones, B Thomson, J Morgan, U Cassiem. Substitutes: D Hughes, R Evans, S Lee, D Drake, I Rees, W Homer, S Costelow, J Roberts.
Referee: F Murphy (Ireland).