New signing Robbie Fruean is a gamble for Edinburgh but one Richard Cockerill expects to pay big dividends for the club this season.
The former Junior All Black at prolific scorer for the Crusaders in Super Rugby makes his Guinness PRO14 debut for Edinburgh in their home against Dragons at Myreside tonight after his summer move from Bath, and while his upside is considerable, he also brings questions regarding injuries and his health.
Fruean had a heart condition in the past which has been “100% sorted” and his injury record “isn’t perfect” admitted Cockerill.
“You have to understand that we’re probably not first off the rank when people are choosing clubs to come to, so we have to take a little bit of a risk on some players,” said the head coach.
“Robbie’s injury history isn’t perfect, but we’ll look after him, and we’ve done that over the last few weeks to get him on the field. He came to us with a slight patella tendon issue in his knee, which we’ve been wanting to get rid of rather than having to manage, and now he’s 100 per cent ready.
“He’s quality, he’s very much a class player. He has a lot of experience and a physical presence. He’s a good talker in attack and defence, a big man with good feet and good skills. He’ll hopefully he’ll cause some issues with and without the ball.”
Fruean’s arrival for the Dragons is one of five changes from the team that opened with an encouraging 20-10 win in Cardiff, with the head coach prepared to use the depth in his squad from the off. Scotland tourists Damien Hoyland, Ben Toolis and Hamish Watson are three making their first starts.
“I want to use the depth to keep everybody playing,” continued Cockerill. “That will be a constant over time. You want to keep some continuity, but we’ve got players that are competing hard for a place and working hard in training, so over time we will rotate the squad.”
One place Cockerill likes continuity is half-back, so Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Duncan Weir are his partnership for now.
“They both played well in pre-season, and worked very hard on the training field,” he said. “I like to keep the nines and tens combinations reasonably static and have some consistency there.
“At the moment they’ve taken their opportunity and they’ve got a bit of a head start on the others. I thought both of them played very well last week and they’re both very good players who I have faith in.”
Hamish Watson comes in for John Hardie in a like-for-like, but Cockerill doesn’t rule out both Scotland internationalists playing together.
“Cardiff was John’s first full 80 minutes of rugby for a long time,” he pointed out. “Hamish needs to play and I thought the combination of Jamie Richie and Magnus Bradbury was very good.With Ben Toolis and Hamish’s freshness coming into the team, it’s a good blend for us.”
Dragons are rebuilding like Edinburgh and suffered a heavy home loss to an understrength Leinster last week, but Cockerill has dismissed any complacency.
“They have a mentality to play with ball in hand, and great experience in Zane Kirschner and Gavin Henson,” said the coach. “They are building like we are, trying to set a new attitude and how they approach things a bit like ourselves.
“It is a little bit difficult to work out how they will approach it as some teams play different at home compared with away from home. They are trying to find out like ourselves where they are at.”
Edinburgh team (vs Dragons, Guinness PRO14, Myreside tonight 7.35 pm, live on BBC ALBA)
Blair Kinghorn; Damien Hoyland, Chris Dean, Robbie Fruean, Jason Harries; Duncan Weir, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Michele Rizzo, Stuart McInally, WP Nel; Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist; Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Magnus Bradbury (capt).
Replacements: Ross Ford, Darryl Marfo, Simon Berghan, Fraser McKenzie, Cornell du Preez, Nathan Fowles, Jason Tovey, Junior Rasolea.