John Barclay can be a key leader for Edinburgh and he hasn’t given up his Scotland shirt just yet, head coach Richard Cockerill believes.
The former Scotland captain returns to Edinburgh’s starting line-up for the visit of Dragons to BT Murrayfield in the Guinness PRO14 this evening after a disappointing World Cup, but Cockerill just wants to see the 33-year-old get some matches under his belt again.
“He has not played enough rugby in a while because of the serious injury last year,” said Cockerill, who also restores Ben Toolis to the starting lineup.
“The balance is John with Magnus and Luke Crosbie this week, but we have Jamie Ritchie and guys like Conor Boyle and Rory Darge in the squad, so it is good to have such an experienced pro around the place, letting the younger players see how he operates, and his knowledge of the game is very good.
“His value to the team is still high and I am not sure he has counted himself out of getting into the Six Nations squad, so it’s all to play for.”
There’s more than a few players who didn’t play as much as they would have liked in Japan, and they’re all keen to get back on the field “and back into some sort of rhythm,” added Cockerill.
“It is just the not playing part,” he continued. “Even guys like Blair Kinghorn who has been back a couple of weeks, he had been injured in the Six Nations and did not play for us at the end of last season and did not get as much game time as he would have liked.
“There are lots of guys who would just like to get back in and play, get some routine back in their week. John is one, Ben Toolis has been really sharp this week, looking really good and so has (Grant) Gilchrist. It is good go get them all back.
Cockerill’s comments about PRO14 refs have resulted in feedback “higher up the chain” than the coach himself but he is happy with the official tonight and is unrepentant about his stance.
“George Clancy has refereed us before this season and was very, very good,” he said. “Clancy and Frank Murphy are probably the two best refs in the comp at the moment.
“My issues from last weekend were the same issues as I had after Leinster and it’s the truth. I don’t see the referees being a protected species, just like the head coaches aren’t a protected species.
“If you don’t perform, you get criticised. I get criticised when we don’t perform and that’s part of being in professional sport.”
Edinburgh team: Blair Kinghorn; Eroni Sau, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott, Duhan van der Merwe; Simon Hickey, Henry Pyrgos (capt); Pierre Schoeman, Mike Willemse, Pietro Ceccarelli; Lewis Carmichael, Ben Toolis; John Barclay, Luke Crosbie, Magnus Bradbury.
Replacements: Cameron Fenton, Rory Sutherland, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Charlie Shiel, Jaco van der Walt, George Taylor.