The Hard Horse is back for Edinburgh tonight to duel with his friend and international colleague but with a warning about the capital club’s prospects.
John Hardie’s delay with his ancestry visa – it had to go from New Zealand via Manila in the Philippines for some reason – elongated his well-earned break in his homeland this summer and it’s only now he’s up to pace to start his PRO12 season.
He goes straight into the Edinburgh side as one of five changes from the team that fell to Cardiff last week as they welcome Scarlets, including Hardie’s international back row colleague John Barclay, to BT Murrayfield tonight.
“I watched last week and it wasn’t all bad,” he said of Edinburgh’s opener last week, which got scathing reviews form most quarters. “There were things that we can build on from that.
“But we have to improve because Scarlets have got a lot of dangerous threats and quality international players, not least Johnny and James Davies (who played for Team GB during the Olympics).
“I imagine Johnny will move to No 8 and that’s two top quality out-and-out sevens so we’ll have to be on the ball. No doubt there’ll be a good bit of banter on the pitch.”
Hardie’s break for six weeks in New Zealand finally gave him the chance to recharge batteries after a slog from 2014, when he started Super Rugby preparation with the Highlanders, right through his move to Scotland, World Cup camp and then a full European season.
“Now I’m really keen to get back out there and back into it,” he said. “It’s done my body the world of good to have time off, spend some time back home and on the farm, although I didn’t have to do any work this time!”
Head coach Alan Solomons held Hardie out of last week’s game as he felt he needed another week’s conditioning. With Nasi Manu out for four weeks with a rib cartilage injury, it means the Scotland open side will partner youngsters Jamie Ritchie and Magnus Bradbury in the back row.
Ben Toolis comes back in for Fraser McKenzie, while in the backs Mike Allen is on the wing while Phil Burtleigh replaces Solomoni Rasolea in the centre.
“Sasa Tolfilau has shown us enough that he needs a run of games,” is the coach’s assessment of preferring his younger Samoan Australian centre to the more xepreinced Rasolea.
Solomons knows he needs a bigger showing from his pack this week but is confident that three full games in will show signs of them “hitting their straps”.
“The likes of Grant Gilchrist is vital for us, but in the last two years he’s had so very little rugby and it’ll take time for him to get up to full pace,” said the coach.
“Scarlets are a good side, they’ll look to put some width on their game. I think that you could probably ink Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams in for the Lions Tour right now.
“Munster defended them very well and we have to do the same. Our forward pack can definitely improve and it does take time for a tight forward to get into a season.”
Edinburgh (vs Scarlets, Guinness PRO12, BT Murrayfield tonight ko 7.35 pm, live on BBC ALBA): G Bryce; M Allen, S Tofilau, P Burleigh, T Brown; D Weir, N Fowles; R Sutherland, R Ford, WP Nel; B Toolis, G Gilchrist (capt); J Ritchie, J Hardie, M Bradbury. Replacements: S McInally, A Dell, K Bryce, F McKenzie, H Watson, S Hidalo-Clyne, B Kinghorn, S Rasolea.