Edinburgh welcome back two very different players looking to put injury-hit seasons behind them as they face the tough task of Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday.
Scotland international tight-head WP Nel wrote off most of the 2017-18 season with a knee problem while wing Tom Brown had a 10-month haul back from a serious leg injury.
But both start tonight against Ulster as Richard Cockerill’s team try to get back on track quickly after their loss to Ospreys last week in the Guinness PRO14 opener.
“WP’s been training well the last couple of weeks and it’s good to have his experience back in. His set-piece will be vital for us,” said Cockerill.
“He’s part of the SRU management group of players so we have to look after him from a national point of view, but we also manage him as an individual.
“He’s important. When he’s fit he plays well and is as good as anyone around. It’s his first start and our scrum creaked a little bit last week so I’m hoping WP’s presence will add that bit of ballast and know-how to that set-piece.”
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Brown is a home town boy and had a hard road back form the injury he sustained last season, but replaces Duhan van der Merwe who is out with a head knock.
“Tom works very hard at his game and he had bad luck with injury last year,” continued Cockerill. “He’s very committed, a very solid player and he cares very much about Edinburgh Rugby.
“I’m looking forward to getting him back on the field, he’s looking forward to it and hopefully he goes well.”
With Hamish Watson’s partner about to give birth, the international back rower is staying at home and Jamie Ritchie comes into the back row, while Cockerill is using club rugby to get most of the rest of his squad up to speed.
Magnus Bradbury will play for Melrose, Simon Berghan, Rory Sutherland and other internationals will get game time this weekend.
“I thought Simon was a little bit short of match fitness,” continued the head coach. “He, Gilchrist and Kinghorn couldn’t play pre-season through the management plan, so he’ll go and play club rugby this weekend to get minutes under his belt.
“We get feedback from the coaches and all the footage from the games. But for Magnus, he hasn’t played a minute since the summer tour because of this calf problem which he’s now over.
“Luke Crosbie has played well last year and has minutes under his belt, but Bradbury just hasn’t played so it’s about getting Maggie minutes under his belt and knock that rustiness off.”
“There are lots of guys who will play club rugby. I don’t see it as a punishment, I see it as a good thing and I want players to go, play for their clubs, be very committed to that and then come back into the team and squad as and when needed.
“The players are not a protected species. If they’re not involved with our squad they don’t get a weekend off. If they are fit they should be playing club rugby. I think that’s a very good way of managing players.”
Edinburgh (vs Ulster, Guinness PRO14, Kingspan Stadium tonight ko 7.35 live on Premier Sports): Blair Kinghorn; Dougie Fife, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott, Tom Brown; Simon Hickey, Henry Pyrgos; Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally (capt), WP Nel; Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist; Luke Hamilton, Jamie Ritchie, Bill Vata.
Replacements: Ross Ford, Allan Dell, Murray McCallum, Fraser McKenzie, Luke Crosbie, Sean Kennedy, Jaco van der Walt, James Johnstone.