EDINBURGH will be missing four of their most influential and experienced internationalists for tomorrow afternoon’s crunch Guinness Pro12 clash against the Scarlets.
The capital outfit could climb from eighth to sixth position on the league ladder (which is where they need to finish in order to qualify for the European Champions Cup next season) if they grab a victory over the Welshmen and Connacht lose away to Munster tomorrow evening – but they will be without Ross Ford, Alasdair Dickinson, Matt Scott and Dougie Fife for their expedition to south Wales.
“Fordy started every Test match [during the Six Nations] and Dicko started every match except the last one when he came on after 25 minutes so ended up playing pretty much a full game,” said Edinburgh head coach Alan Solomons, who will name the team today. “As front-row players they have been right at the coal face and they need a week’s break. They will come back refreshed and ready to give their all during a massive programme for us running through to the end of the season.
“Dougie took a bang to the nose against Ireland. He didn’t take part in contact this week and he just doesn’t feel 100 per cent comfortable so we would rather give him another week so that he feels confident.
“Matt’s shoulder didn’t feel quite right during today’s session and on the advice of our excellent medical staff we’ve decided it’s better to err on the side of caution. Clearly we will miss these guys but the players who are still there have just got to rise to the challenge, and the individuals who have come in have got to take the opportunity they have been given.”
On the plus side, Solomons added that the other Scotland squad members at his disposal will be deployed in tomorrow’s game.
“David Denton has not played as much as these other guys. We rested him from contact in the early part of the week because he felt that Test match [against Ireland], and fortunately we’ve had a full week recovery so he’s good to go,” he said.
“Sam Hidalgo-Clyne is dying to play. It is great that he got 25 minutes against Ireland but he hasn’t had a lot of rugby so it is going to take a game or two to get back up to speed. The same goes for Greig Tonks and Ben Toolis.”
Solomons added that he does not expect the Scarlets to follow suit by giving their internationalists a week off.
“They are unbeaten at home, their players have come off a massive high with Wales and I think they’ll pick all their internationalists for this game,” he said.
“They’ve got a very well balanced team. They’ve got a good pack of forwards with John Barclay, who is a fine player, in the back-row; Jake Ball in the middle row with Joe Snyman, who I coached in South Africa and is another good player; and I thought Ken Owens had a terrific game against Italy.
“And, of course, they have some really outstanding backs. Gareth Davies and Rhys Priestland were on the bench for Wales against Italy; Scott Williams and Liam Williams have had terrific Six Nations; and Regan King had played for the All Blacks and is still a really good player with a very smart rugby brain.”
Edinburgh had built up an impressive head of steam coming into the Six Nations window, with ten wins from 14 matches stretching back to 11 October.
But their form in recent outings has been a mixed bag, while Solomons believes that the Scarlets will be full of confidence after some impressive showings against top Irish opposition in their last two matches. “I watched their game against Ulster when they did very well to get a bonus point away from home and they beat a pretty decent Leinster side at home. They will be at absolutely full strength and unfortunately we won’t – but I think the players are looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
“I really thought we should have won that Ulster game [at Murrayfield in February] but our place kicking was poor, and I think we also blew the Cardiff game. But we did beat the Ospreys comfortably at home and we did get a bonus point win away to Treviso, which I was very pleased with,” he added.
Edinburgh currently have 39 league points, while the Scarlets have 40 and Connacht have 43 – with each team having five league matches still to play.
Solomons was clearly in no mood for contemplating defeat yesterday, but he was also reluctant to fall into the trap of painting this as a season-defining weekend.
“It is a huge game but there is a long way to go in this season. Scarlets have got a very favourable run-in, but rugby is a funny game. We all know that strange things happen,” he said.
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