Edinburgh are down the bare bones with their prop crisis and will get no more help from European Club Rugby as they face Stade Francais twice in successive weeks for a last eight place in the European Challenge Cup.
The Parisians, the champions having beaten Gloucester last year at BT Murrayfield, are back at the national stadium with the game switched from Myreside, and are certain to give Richard Cockerill’s depleted front row a thorough examination.
But the head coach admitted that Edinburgh, who will qualify for a home quarter-final if they win tonight, are down to four fit props and any more injuries will possibly require uncontested scrums for the remainder of the pool stages.
“We asked to bring (recent signing) Jordan Lay in as an extra player because of extreme circumstances, but that’s not part of the regulations,” said Cockerill. “If we got another injury we would have one less prop in the squad and we would have to go uncontested if there was a problem.
“It’s just one of those things, the rules are the rules, and you have to go by them. Our injury and suspension issues are pretty unusual. I just hope we don’t get to the point where we have uncontested scrums because we have guys injured.”
Kevin Bryce, who has not played this season, is on the bench while Murray McCallum is again pressed into service on the “wrong” side to his usual loosehead berth.
Cockerill thinks that the Dunfermline RFC product could make something of a statement with a performance tonight, especially with Scotland light on tight-heads ahead of the opening Six Nations game in Cardiff.
“Is he ready to go to Cardiff to play tighthead for Scotland?” continued Cockerill. “You are asking a lot of him. He would certainly give it a good crack and is a good lad who works really hard.
“If I am being honest, is he really ready? Probably not.
“But as Darryl Marfo showed in the autumn, if you get the opportunity, you may surprise a few people. It will be a good test for him against a big French pack. If he does well there he at least will give the selectors a think about it.”
Stade seem to have given the tournament short shift this year but Cockerill reckons they’ll be fully engaged tonight.
“I’ve seen their team and it’s a pretty good side, not quite full strength but pretty much some very good players in there,” he went on.
“They have had some changes. Greg Cooper is a very good coach, I know Olivier Azam very well because I played with him at Clermont and coached against him at Gloucester, and I know Julian Dupuy because I signed him for Leicester.
“They ran Montpellier very close in the Top 14 last weekend. If they win these two games they are in the quarter-finals and maybe that’s what they’re looking at.”
But with five changes from the team that beat the Kings last week, Edinburgh want to seize their quarter-final chance before they have to go Paris next week.
“We are looking to win so we get a home quarter-final. It’s as simple as that,” continued the head coach.
“We are going to play like we have been playing recently, play ball in hand on a great pitch.
“The weather will be half-decent, we’ve got an English ref who will allow the game tok be fluid and we are going to go out do exactly what we have done for the last three months.”
Edinburgh (vs Stade Francais Paris, European Challenge Cup, BT Murrayfield, ko 7.35 pm); Blair Kinghorn; Damien Hoyland, Mark Bennett, Chris Dean, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally (capt), Murray McCallum; Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist; Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, Viliame Mata. Replacements: Neil Cochrane, Matt Shields, Kevin Bryce, Fraser McKenzie, Jamie Ritchie, Nathan Fowles, Darcy Graham, Junior Rasolea.