FREED on appeal to play again this season, Nick de Luca brings some much-needed experience back to the Edinburgh midfield in tonight’s penultimate league match away to Treviso.
De Luca was initially suspended for 13 weeks after receiving a red card for a dangerous tip tackle on Ospreys wing Tom Grabham but, highlighting the bizarre inconsistencies in the rugby discipline world, it was reduced to seven weeks on appeal, so the 38-times capped centre is now back in the side for the first time since February.
Edinburgh secured two consecutive wins under new interim coaching team Stevie Scott and Duncan Hodge but were denied a long-awaited three-in-a-row by a disappointing 32-24 home defeat to Connacht last Friday night. Now they face a Treviso team that has won its last four games in all competitions at home – their last defeat being a narrow 14-13 loss to Leicester in the Heineken Cup in December, which only underlined the Italians’ rising competitiveness.
Head coach Scott welcomed De Luca’s return as the team bids to finish strongly with wins in Italy and at home to the Dragons in a fortnight’s time, and the centre’s partnership with Matt Scott restores one of the most potents attacking and defending units in the side.
“It’s a massive boost to have Nick back in the team ahead of a very tough match,” said Scott.
“He’s an experienced, quality international and has been buzzing all week to get back out on the pitch. He brings a lot of value to the squad and will hopefully help us continue to take further steps in the right direction.
“We were all very disappointed with our performance against Connacht at Murrayfield last weekend so first we want to see a reaction to that and a desire to get back on track, especially in the first 20 minutes, in what is a crucial part of any match.
“Treviso is a notoriously a difficult place to play. They pride themselves on a strong set piece, and have a number of stand out players, including top Italian internationalists, that make them very dangerous team.”
Scott is also continuing with his plan to cast an eye over the depth of talent in the squad and, particularly, the young players coming through in the hope that he might be handed the opportunity to work with them in the longer term. So this week he hands starts to 20-year-old stand-off Harry Leonard, Dougie Fife (22) and Tom Brown (23). They come in for, respectively, Piers Francis and Lee Jones, who both start on the bench, as well as Greig Tonks, the full-back having injured a hamstring.
One of the best signings made by former head coach Michael Bradley, vice-captain Sean Cox will make his 50th appearance for the club in an unchanged pack that underlines the strength in depth at Edinburgh.
With 14 players unavailable, including forwards David Denton, Roddy Grant, Willem Nel, Lewis Niven, Steven Turnbull and Izak van der Westhuizen, Edinburgh are able to field a potent pack and strong bench in a game that may mean little to the outcome of the RaboDirect PRO12 title but much to the immediate future of a number of players and their ability to impress whoever is calling the shots on next season’s squad.
Treviso are seventh in the table, seven points ahead of tenth-placed Edinburgh and with a better defensive record. They are favourites to level up the results between the teams with a third win in six meetings.
Franco Smith’s side won the last meeting, at Murrayfield in October, 27-22 and, while they have named a strong, almost fully international line-up for tonight, they are fielding a new half-back pairing of Alberto Di Bernardo and Fabio Semenzato.
The ability of scrum-half Greig Laidlaw and Leonard, therefore, to take the upper hand and control the tempo and territory will be crucial to Edinburgh’s hopes of bouncing back to victory and lifting morale around the capital.
Edinburgh Rugby (v Treviso at the Stadio Monigo, 7.30pm)
15 T Brown, 14 D Fife, 13 N De Luca, 12 M Scott, 10 H Leonard, 9 G Laidlaw (capt); 1 A Jacobsen, 2 R Ford, 3 G Cross, 4 G Gilchrist, 5 S Cox, 6 S McInally, 7 H Watson, 8 N Talei. Subs: 16 S Lawrie, 17 R Hislop, 18 J Yapp, 19 P Parker, 20 R McAlpine, 21 S Kennedy, 22 P Francis, 23 L Jones,