The cavalry rumbled in to Port Elizabeth on Wednesday afternoon allowing Richard Cockerill considerably more leeway than he expected when picking his side to keep Edinburgh’s outstanding run going against the Kings.
Chris Dean, Dave Cherry and Luke Crosbie were the three players released from Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations squad to join the rest of the clubmates in the South African summer, as Edinburgh seek to extend their winning run to eight in a row, against a team they recorded a bonus-point shut out at Murrayfield just three weeks ago.
“We were a little bit short in the backline and also the back row so Chris Dean and Luke Crosbie have been a welcome addition to the team,” said Cockerill, who admitted that losing so many top names to international duty was “challenging”.
“We’ve the best part of 20 players missing, nine with the national team and 11 guys injured,” added the head coach, who hoped to add Luke Hamilton back to the mix this week but continuing concussion issues intervened.
In the backline, James Johnstone is on the wing and George Taylor at centre because there’s no others available. Duhan van der Merwe has the week off to be best man at the wedding of his brother, Sharks hooker Akker van der Merwe.
“It’s going to be a tough game. The Kings have made teams work really hard for results here. As we saw against Glasgow, if you get it wrong you can certainly come unstuck,” added Cockerill.
“Nothing changes for us. We’ve got to meet the physical challenges and obviously it’s a little bit warmer than we’re used to, but we back our conditioning and fitness.
“Although we are slightly understrength we would expect ourselves to perform. It is an important game and we need as many points out of it as we can get.”
Edinburgh struggled in the November international window, losing to Zebre and the Dragons in away matches they’d probably have hoped to win, but Cockerill thinks there is an opportunity to put themselves in perfect position for the play-offs now.
“We’re just going to approach every game (in the window) and try to get as many points out of it as we can,” he continued.
“We had a tough start to the season from the fixture point of view, but teams around us are playing each other, so somebody is going to drop points this weekend. We have to make sure we keep chipping away.
“If we get it right there is potentially an opportunity to get five or six points ahead of the teams that will be competing for those play-off spots.
“We still have those teams to play, especially Scarlets and Ulster. It’s going to be a tight finish and we need to make sure we collect as many points on the way as we can.”
Edinburgh Team: Dougie Fife, Tom Brown, George Taylor, Chris Dean, James Johnstone; Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos; Pierre Schoeman, Dave Cherry, Pietro Ceccarelli; Fraser McKenzie (capt), Callum Hunter-Hill; Luke Crosbie, Ally Miller, Villame Mata. Replacements: Ross Ford, Darryl Marfo, Murray McCallum, Jamie Hodgson, Mungo Mason, Nathan Fowles, Simon Hickey, Juan Pablo Socino.