Edinburgh captain Mike Coman back for Ulster

Edinburgh Rugby captain Mike Coman. Picture: SNS

Edinburgh Rugby captain Mike Coman. Picture: SNS

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EDINBURGH will enter the lion’s den this evening when they visit Ravenhill to take on an Ulster team desperate to get their season back on track after last week’s shock defeat by Italian minnows Zebre.

Not only have the Northern Irish outfit been bolstered by the recall of several leading players – including Rory Best, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne and Paul Marshall – but they will be roared on by one of the most fiercely partisan crowds in British rugby. Given that more than 15,000 tickets had been sold for the match by yesterday lunchtime, it promises to be an electrifying experience.

To that end, the visitors will be hoping that the return from injury of club captain Mike Coman, along with the elevation from the bench of current Scotland captain Grant Gilchrist, will provide Edinburgh with a level of self-assurance which has often deserted them at crucial moments in recent seasons.

Edinburgh showed encouraging fortitude when fighting their way back from 17-3 down to salvage a draw against the Scarlets last Friday night, but the challenge lying in wait this evening promises to be a major step up in terms of intensity. The painful memory of their defeats by Connacht and Ospreys continues to cast a dark shadow over this squad, and Coman says it is imperative that his team don’t lapse into old habits but manage instead to build on whatever progress they made seven days ago.

“We’re sick of riding the rollercoaster. We started well this season and then we tailed off for a couple of weeks, but I think there were some good signs again last week. So we have to try and push on, build from that and get some consistency in how we are playing,” said the 27-year-old New Zealander.

“Since coming over here I’ve often thought about why it is [that Edinburgh have struggled for consistency] and if we had an exact answer we’d be able to fix it. I think a lot of it is mind-set. We’ve got to come in the right frame of mind every week. You can’t have that tendency to fall off, especially going away to teams like Ulster – you’ve got to be on top of your game.

“It sounds like it could be wet, so it’s going to be fairly confrontational which I think is a good way for us to get into the game. We’ve got a couple of guys coming back in regards to leadership, and some aggressive tight five forwards back as well, so it should be good.” Coman added that it is not only in the pack that he is looking for leaders to step forward. He believes that Phil Burleigh – another Kiwi import, who joined the club on a two-year deal during the summer – can have a big impact in his first start at stand-off.

“I played age-grade with Phil. We were both together at Canterbury and then we played against each other when I was at Hawke’s Bay and he was at Bay of Plenty. He’ll be good for us. He has a calm head and leads the team well around the field. At the captain’s run today he was pretty on to what he wants us to do, and he was driving us on, so it’ll be pretty exciting seeing how he goes,” said Coman.

Burleigh takes over the key playmaker role from Tom Heathcote, who is named on the bench despite not having trained this week because of a niggling knee problem. This selection means the project to convert Greig Tonks into an international-class stand-off remains on hold for at least one more week, although Alan Solomons insisted the switch may still be made when circumstances better suit both the player and the team.

“He started playing ten last year when we had no other options and he did a good job, he then got injured [in February] and was out for a very long time,” said the coach. “After the summer he started off playing at ten for us again, but then he tweaked his groin and missed a couple of games. So, after discussions with Greig we decided the best thing for him to do is regain his confidence and get back into playing rugby in a position he is absolutely comfortable with. At the moment, in his interests and in the team’s interests, full-back is the best position for him.”

Edinburgh Rugby team v Ulster

15 Greig Tonks

14 Jack Cuthbert

13 Sam Beard

12 Andries Strauss

11 Tim Visser

10 Phil Burleigh

9 Sean Kennedy

1 Rory Sutherland

2 Ross Ford

3 John Andress

4 Anton Bresler

5 Grant Gilchrist

6 Mike Coman (captain)

7 Roddy Grant

8 Cornell Du Preez

Substitutes

16 James Hilterbrand

17 Allan Dell

18 Willem Nell

19 Ollie Atkins

20 Tomas Leonardi

21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne

22 Tom Heathcote

23 Nick McLennan

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