Edinburgh are in the happy position of putting out their strongest team every week as they make a last-gasp run for the Guinness PRO14 play-offs and feel they can beat the best team of anyone left in the competition.
Richard Cockerill named only one change from the team that defeated Scarlets 20-12 last week, swapping Magnus Bradbury for John Barclay as starter and replacement as Ulster come to Murrayfield tonight in what is a last-chance for both teams.
But Cockerill’s best team, whether that be in Europe or the PRO14, have been outstanding all season and for the coach it doesn’t matter that Ulster have recalled Iain Henderson to captain the side tonight.
“We’ve got some very good players,” he said. “They’re a good side but I’m not too concerned about who they pick, because if we play as well as we can and have belief then we’re good enough to beat their best side, never mind one that has players missing.
“We’ll always attack an opposition’s set-piece because we rate ourselves in that department. It wouldn’t matter who we were playing this weekend, we’re always going to have a crack at them because they’re the margins in the game if you can get a little bit of ascendancy you get to dominate territory and the gain line.”
Bradbury for Barclay didn’t make Edinburgh better or worse, “just different”.
“John has had a few bumps and bruises after nine months off and three starts on the trot and Magnus is a really good player who is fully fit and really chomping at the bit to start.
“Barclay coming off the bench with 25 or 30 minutes to go, given his experience, how he plays, what he offers both leadership and playing-wise, might be good for us.
“It’s a great scenario where you can make changes and rotate and look after guys who maybe can’t train early in the week, but where really good quality fresh guys come in and are desperate for their opportunity.”
Ulster recall Henderson and Stuart McCloskey is fit after coming off last week against Glasgow, but there is no Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale will start at full-back instead of the wing.
“Henderson’s an outstanding player, I don’t know what his injury’s been but hopefully we can test that tomorrow. The same goes for Stuart McCloskey, who took a very heavy bang last week.
“Obviously it’s not Stockdale’s preferred position but the aerial parts of his game are very good when he’s on the wing so it will be interesting to see how they manage that. They know what’s coming from our exit strategy, and hopefully Stockdale at 15 will be less effective, but he’s a world-class player and if we give loose ball or turn ball over he will punish us.”
There will be no sentiment involved in getting Ross Ford on the pitch on what might be his last game at BT Murrayfield, after it was announced he will be leaving the club.
“If it’s the right thing to put Fordy on, then he’ll get on,” said Cockerill. “I won’t be putting him on to get his 198th appearance.
“If I need him on the field because that’s the right thing, he’ll be on, same with Barcs or any of the bench. If I think we need a different approach or different energy or guys are looking fatigued, then I’ll make the change.
“I’m sure Fordy feels the same: he wants to be put on the field because his team needs him, not because he wants one last cheer from his home crowd.”
Ford has not changed his approach one iota despite the fact he’s leaving the club after 11 years.
“He’s a good man, he works very hard at his game, you don’t do what he’s done in the game without being a very, very good professional and a good player.
“It’s not our last game. I’m hoping that we’ve got three or four or five more to go. I’d love him to make it to be a double centurion, because it would be horrible for him to stop on 197 or 198 or 199, but I don’t get to decide that and nor does he.
“It’ll be how far we get in the comp, and also if he appears on the field he’ll be on the field purely out of performance.”
Edinburgh team: Darcy Graham; Damien Hoyland, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos; Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally (capt), WP Nel; Grant Gilchristm Ben Toolis; Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, Viliame Mata.
Replacements: Ross Ford, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Callum Hunter-Hill, John Barclay, Charlie Shiel, Simon Hickey, George Taylor.