BLAIR KINGHORN will start at full-back for Edinburgh on Friday night despite the fact he is understood to be on the precipice of agreeing a mid-season move to join French Top 14 side Toulouse.
It has been widely reported in France that the high-profile switch could be completed within a matter of days, with Toulouse keen to fill the gap left in they squad by French international Melvyn Jaminet‘s sudden departure to join Toulon.
“Blair is available, as you can see,” said Edinburgh ‘senior’ coach Sean Everitt. “There has been a lot of speculation about Blair’s move to France, which we are aware of, and there are negotiations that are taking place. But there’s nothing formal yet. So at the moment it’s just speculation and we’ll treat it as such.”
“It probably is distracting for him during the week, but this is not something that would have come up overnight or over the last few days,” Everitt added. “These rumours might have happened a couple of weeks back, and he has still performed, being a professional. And in the modern day we have to accept and trust that his mind is on the job at hand, which is to play rugby – and play as best as he can against Benetton and Ulster.
“So I don’t doubt his ability and his commitment to the club. He’s been here for nine years, he’s been a standout player for this club over that period of time, and he’s extremely popular in Edinburgh. So I don’t think that he’ll put himself first and let the people down that have supported him throughout his career.”
Everitt did, however, concede that he would like to have some clarity on where the 26-year-old is going to finish the season sooner rather than later.
“Yes, definitely. We’d like to have a finite answer in the near future, definitely, because it impacts on how we play the game and also on the depth that we have in our squad,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the right decision will be made that suits all three parties – it’s got to suit the individual, Edinburgh and Scottish Rugby.”
Pressed on whether the move is inevitable, Everitt responded: “I don’t have any comment on that at this stage. I’ve been focusing on preparing the team this week, and the ins and outs of the negotiations that have been taking place are just going to distract me from my job at hand. So I’ll leave that up to the hierarchy to make the right decision, with obviously the player, and I’m sure that I’ll be consulted at some stage with regards to that.”
Asked about how hard it will be to replace Kinghorn if he does leave, Everitt said: “I said right from the start when I came in that he’s a world-class player and he can be the best in his position in the world. I did say that and I’m on record saying that, and my sentiments are the same.
“So to replace a player of that quality is always going to be difficult, but at the same time we’ve had youngsters in that position that have been waiting in the wings to get an opportunity, which for me is exciting because it’s good that we can breed within the franchise itself.
“We’ve also got Emiliano Boffelli, who will be returning from injury, which will give us an international back three. There’s not many franchises around the world that can boast four international back-threes, so I think we’re healthy in that department.”
“Toulouse have been one of the best clubs in the world for some time now. Even when they weren’t winning, in the PRO14 everyone spoke about Toulouse. And the quality of the player that they have there now is unbelievable. They’ve pretty much got the French national team. We also saw that when those internationals don’t play for Toulouse, they don’t do as well as they do.
“So it will certainly strengthen them. Because they want a player like Blair, it obviously puts down a statement that they want to win the Heineken Cup – they haven’t done that for some time now. We’ll just wait and see what the outcome of that is.”
Meanwhile, Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie – who joined the club straight from school at the age of 17 and made his Edinburgh Rugby debut in 2014 – will make his 100th appearance for the capital side.
It is ‘Club Appreciation Night’ at the Hive Stadium with players pulling on the socks of their boyhood clubs or local sides they’ve adopted for the fixture (clubs listed below in team line-up). Ritchie has opted for one each from Madras College and Howe of Fife RFC.
Jamie was a true warrior against Bulls last weekend and it’s clear he’s a player who commands respect across the dressing room,” said Everitt. “We’re delighted to see him reach 100 appearances for his boyhood club in front of the Edinburgh supporters.
“I know there will be extra motivation for the squad to make it a special night for Jamie and they will be playing for him, as well as the fans that will be packing out Hive Stadium.”
Everitt has made four changes fin total to the side he selected for last weekend’s home win over the Bulls, with fit again Matt Currie replacing Mark Bennett (who has a hamstring strain) at outside-centre, on loan Ali Price taking over from club co-captain Ben Vellacott at scrum-half, Dave Cherry swapping in for Ewan Ashman at hooker and Luke Crosbie taking over from the concussed Viliame Mata at No 8.
Meanwhile, stand-off/full-back Tim Swiel – who joined the club on a short-term deal at the start of the season – is set to make his debut off the bench after recovering from an ankle injury.
“It’s set to be another great test tomorrow night and it’s one we’re really excited about,” added Everitt.” We’ve shown a lot of resilience in recent wins against Connacht and Bulls and we want to keep that momentum going.
“Our fans make Hive Stadium a special place to play and the atmosphere has been electric. We’ll need that noise and backing to continue as we take on a Benetton side who’ve made an impressive start to the new campaign.”
Edinburgh Rugby (versus Benetton at Hive Stadium on Friday at 7.35pm): B Kinghorn; W Goosen, M Currie, J Lang, D van der Merwe; B Healy, A Price; P Schoeman, D Cherry, W Nel, G Young, G Gilchrist©, J Ritchie, C Boyle, L Crosbie. Substitutes: E Ashman, B Venter, A Williams, M Sykes, T Dodd, B Vellacott, T Swiel, C Dean.
Unavailable: Mark Bennett (hamstring), Emiliano Boffelli (toe), Luan de Bruin (back), Darcy Graham (hip), Jake Henry (knee), Mikey Jones (ankle), Viliame Mata (concussion), Cam Neild (knee), Sam Skinner (knee), Scott Steele (hip), Nathan Sweeney (hamstring), Hamish Watson (cheekbone).