Duncan Hodge hands trio first Edinburgh starts for Euro tie

Scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne returns for Edinburgh's European tie in Romania. Picture: SNS
Scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne returns for Edinburgh's European tie in Romania. Picture: SNS
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Acting head coach Duncan Hodge has handed three players their first Edinburgh starts for today’s European Challenge Cup opener against Timisoara Saracens in Romania.

Olympic gold medal-winning Fijian Viliame Mata and Australian speedster Alex Northam will make their first appearances for the club, while academy prop Murray McCallum plays at tighthead after coming off the bench in last Friday’s 45-10 win over Treviso in the Guinness Pro12.

In total there are 11 personnel changes from that win over the Italians and Hodge said: “There’s a number of changes from last week’s win over Treviso, yet there is no change in emphasis as we go into Europe looking to build on our positive performance.

“We have good depth and a lot of competition for places in the squad this season, which not only allows us to make a number of changes but presents a chance for players to stake their claim for a spot in the team going forward.”

Sam Hidalgo-Clyne returns at scrum-half after missing the last match with illness and he said the squad were looking forward to experiencing the European stage again.

“Obviously it was a massive disappointment for us when we lost the final to Gloucester two seasons ago, but beating the Dragons at home in the semi-final was a big one for us,” said the Scotland cap.

“I’m hoping for a good run in the Challenge Cup this season too, starting tomorrow – it’s important we get a good result after the changes there have been at the club, for our supporters as well as for ourselves.”.

Edinburgh’s priority is improving their league position this season and getting back into the elite Champions Cup but Hidalgo-Clyne said they were keen to progress as far as possible in Europe after being drawn in a pool that also includes Harlequins and Stade Francais. “The most important thing is to get into the top six of the Pro12, so in that sense the league is the priority,” said Hidalgo-Clyne. “But as a club we’ve never said that one is more important than the other. We’ve gone strong on both and tried for consistency.

“We had a good win last week in the Pro12, but we need to back it up this week, then go down to Harlequins before we go back to the league.”

For Hidalgo-Clyne, the game represents a chance to reclaim his grip on the No 9 jersey after coming under pressure from Nathan Fowles and Sean Kennedy for the starting spot.

“I’ve not really played much at all, so I’m just looking forward to getting out there,” he said. “It’s always difficult when you’re not playing, because there are a lot of questions from the outside, and you almost always doubt yourself. So first and foremost you need to maintain your confidence and wait for your opportunity
to come – and when it does come, you need to grasp it.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge. I just want to go 
out there and have fun – that’s the most important thing for me, because I play my best rugby when I’m happy and I’m enjoying myself.”