Edinburgh’s new strength in depth allows them to put a full-strength three-quarter line and a formidable, all international back row as they head for the pivotal game of their European Challenge Cup pool in Bordeaux.
The capital side could win the pool and a home quarter-final with victory over Bordeaux-Begles, who currently lead France’s Top 14, as their remaining game is home to Agen, who appear to have lost all interest in the event.
Not so OBB, who after getting a draw at Murrayfield also see a home quarter-final in their sights.
“The main thing we learned (from the first game) is they’re a bloody good team,” said Edinburgh assistant coach Duncan Hodge.
“We missed a few chances and we would say we should have won that night. However, they’re a quality team, they’re sitting top of the Top 14, and you don’t do that after 13 rounds if you’re not a great side.
“That night we lost a few lineouts, first 20, 25 minutes we didn’t have enough of the ball, and that meant that they were potentially still close enough to us when maybe they shouldn’t have been.”
Edinburgh’s recent record in France has been outstanding, however, with wins in Agen and Toulon and a couple of close run things against Montpellier and Stade Francais in the last couple of years.
“Our set piece is very good, so we can match these big French teams, and I think we’ve got a really fit squad,” continued Hodge.
“If we can cope set-piece-wise, then we’d like to think that with 20 minutes to go we’ve got a real chance of competing and winning the game. If you look back to Montpellier and Toulon last year, for example, that’s a bit of a blueprint.”
There is rotation going on, but you wouldn’t think so looking at the backs and the back row. Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson and Bill Mata make up the loose forwards, while it’s a virtual first choice backline with Matt Scott and Mark Bennett, Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe, while Blair Kinghorn remains at full-back.
“It’s just important to bring in some fresh bodies,” said Hodge. “We’re lucky to have guys like Darcy back, and some of the back-rowers, and there’s a couple of people that have been a bit short of rugby – it’ll be great to see Rory Sutherland and Simon Berghan in the front row. It’s a top French front five, so it’s a real test up there.”
Seeing Scott and Bennett go against the formidable OBB pairing of Semi Radradea and Seti Mainavalu will be a great test of their Scotland prospects, thinks Hodge.
“In terms of Scotland it’s hard to say where Gregor will go,” he continued. “There’s a lot of good players, you can mention Sam Johnson and Rory Hutchinson too, there’s a bit of a headache for Gregor there.
“A lot of players sticking their hands up there. All those two guys can do is back up their performances for us week to week and that will help their cause and with that in mind, this is a huge game.
“It will be great to see them up against Radradra and Taminavalu on both sides of the ball.”
Stuart McInally, Jamie Ritchie and George Taylor should all be available for next week which longer-term injured Chris Dean and Fraser McKenzie may make it back as well before the end of January.
Edinburgh team: Blair Kinghorn; Darcy Graham, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Nic Groom (capt); Rory Sutherland, Mike Willemse, Simon Berghan; Sam Thomson, Lewis Carmichael; Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Viliame Mata.
Replacements: Dave Cherry, Pierre Schoeman, Pietro Ceccarelli, John Barclay, Luke Crosbie, Charlie Shiel, Simon Hickey, James Johnstone.