EDINBURGH are without eight members of the current Scotland squad but have still managed to name a strong line-up for tomorrow’s Conference B top-of-the-table clash with Scarlets.
Forwards WP Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Nick Haining and Luke Crosbie have been released by Gregor Townsend and all start, with Haining, who made his Test debut against Ireland, moving from No 8 to blindside. In the back division, Matt Scott and Henry Pyrgos are also included in the 15. Prop Jamie Bhatti is on the bench.
Magnus Bradbury, Darcy Graham, Blair Kinghorn, Stuart McInally, Jamie Ritchie, Rory Sutherland, Ben Toolis and Hamish Watson have all been retained by Scotland, although Graham, for one, would have been unable to play in any case as he is making his way back from injury. Scotland Under-20s back-three player Jack Blain is also unavailable because of injury.
“The gold standard for us would be getting Stuart McInally and Ben Toolis, because they haven’t played a huge amount,” head coach Richard Cockerill said. “But I get that Scotland have got a fallow week and want to get some hard work done, so they’ll keep the majority of that 25, 6, 7 to get through some work, and guys who need a bit of game time will come back and get some.
“Guys like Gilko will want to play, because he hasn’t played for four or five weeks. Guys like Nick Haining – he’s had a whirlwind start to his Edinburgh career then into the national team. We just keep them grounded. Luke Crosbie’s back with us as well.
“To be honest, we don’t really talk about the Scotland environment. That’s a separate thing. I don’t want to discuss it – they’ve just got to come back and fit into what we do. I don’t treat them any differently – in fact I probably treat them worse than the boys who have been here.”
Those players who were not on Test duty were given a two-week break last month before returning to training a fortnight ago, Cockerill having decided that batteries needed recharged after a long block of matches every week. “We said before the 13 weeks of games that we were having that two-week block as holiday,” he explained. “Just refresh mentally as well as physically – obviously it doesn’t apply to the Test boys.
“It was new territory for me, guaranteeing them two weeks before we’d played the games. Because if we’d been really shit, we might not have been having the two weeks’ holiday.
“But it was the right thing to do. With a month’s break, we’ve been here for two weeks preparing for Scarlets, Connacht and Cardiff. So it’s a big few weeks. These three games are pivotal for us. We’ve got a few guys back from Scotland camp, because it’s the fallow week, then we go to Connacht and the guys will be away, then a fallow week for Cardiff. We did well during the World Cup, so we’ll just revert to that.
“We’ll work as hard as we can with the players we have, and think about all the good things we can do rather than complaining about all the people we haven’t got. It’s just normal for us.
“They’ll be missing a lot of guys as well, which is a shame for the competition. We’ve just got to play what’s in front of us. We’re equally hamstrung with players missing – Connacht and Cardiff not so much for them, but that’s life.”
Edinburgh top Conference B on 34 points, three ahead of Scarlets and four clear of Munster, who can temporarily go clear tonight if they beat Southern Kings with a bonus point.
Edinburgh: (v Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets, Saturday 3pm, live on Premier Sports): D Hoyland; E Sau, M Bennett, M Scott, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos (captain); P Schoeman, D Cherry, W Nel, L Carmichael, G Gilchrist, N Haining, L Crosbie, V Mata. Substitutes: M Willemse, J Bhatti, P Ceccarelli, F McKenzie, N Groom, S Hickey, G Taylor.
Scarlets: A O’Brien; C Baldwin, K Fonotia, S Hughes (captain), S Evans; D Jones, K Hardy; P Price, T Davies, S Lee, L Rawlins, S Lousi, A Shingler, J Macleod, U Cassiem. Substitutes: D Booth, R Evans, W Kruger, T Ratuva, D Davis, D Blacker, P Asquith, R Conbeer.