AFTER getting their Pro12 campaign off to a flying start with a rare victory in Munster last Friday night, Edinburgh will look to carry that momentum into tonight’s home clash against Connacht. The Murrayfield surroundings will be familiar, but it is bound to be a rather surreal experience for the home players who got used to playing on a quagmire last season.
An infestation of root eating nematodes decimated the pitch last season and prompted the Scottish Rugby Union to invest an estimated £1.25 million installing a state-of-the-art hybrid playing surface during the summer, and this will be the first proper test of the new turf’s ability to cope with the vigorous demands of a professional rugby match.
The pitch certainly looked in pristine condition at yesterday’s team announcement, and Edinburgh head coach Alan Solomons says he can’t wait to see what his team can do on their own patch with some decent underfoot conditions.
“The pitch is fantastic. It makes a big difference. It makes it easier because you move across the surface better. This will be our first match on the pitch but we have had our captain’s runs on it over the last three weeks and the boys have been very happy with it,” he said.
The surface would seem to be an ideal platform for Tim Visser and Dougie Fife, the capital outfit’s freewheeling wing men, to work their magic – but we will have to wait before seeing what sort of damage that duo can do on a firm Murrayfield track. Visser suffered a dead leg while Fife took a knock on the knee against Munster. Both hope to be back in action sooner rather than later, but their absence from this match has come at a bad time for Solomons.
With Tom Brown not due back in action until October after injuring the ligaments in his knee at the tail-end of last season, Damian Hoyland away on Sevens duty, Brett Thompson attending his brother’s wedding in America and Jamie Farndale out for six months with a knee injury, the strength in depth of the squad in terms of wing options is being tested to the limit.
Solomons has opted for utility back Nick McLennan and centre Sam Beard in the number 11 and 14 jerseys respectively. Sam Hidalgo Clyne, an occasional wing deputy last season, will provide cover from the bench.
“All sides are going to pick up injuries as the season goes on. That’s why you need strength in depth in your squad. It is an
attritional season of 28 matches, before the play-offs. Our wings are out, but it’s just one of those things,” shrugged Solomons. “Sam Beard played for us on the wing last season so he has experience of playing there, and Nick can play full-back, wing and fly-half. Sammy can play on the wing as well. He is a scrum-half and I want him to be seen as that first and foremost, but if we have a problem in the team he can go there.”
Elsewhere, Tom Heathcote is retained at stand-off while Greig Tonks continues his recovery from the groin injury he picked up before last week’s match, and the pack is unchanged from the eight which outgunned Munster.
Loosehead prop Alasdair Dickinson – at the heart of Edinburgh’s bullish pack performance last Friday, earning an early penalty for his team when he forced BJ Botha to pop his head up at an early scrum – says that the team are expecting another physical battle against Connacht.
“Every time I have played Connacht I have come off the field feeling battered, so it’s a completely different challenge but not an easy one. Munster was a good win, but it’s done and dusted now. We forgot about it on the very early flight back on Saturday morning. It was back to the drawing board on Monday,” he said.
Dickinson went on to pay tribute to forwards coach Steve Scott for the work he has done with the Edinburgh pack over the summer. “He’s got us doing all sorts of crazy training exercises out on the paddock, and Friday proved that it can work. We’ve been scrummaging with our head on Swiss balls; we’ve had harnesses strapped on and sent to opposite ends [of the field] so that we’re like a couple of old diesel tractors pulling against each other; crawling around with weights balanced on our backs,” he said.
“It’s been quite innovative stuff, and credit to Stevie for going out and finding these things and seeing if they work. They obviously seemed to help at the weekend, but we don’t think we’re as good as we can be yet, not by any stretch of the imagination.”
Anton Bresler is set to make his first appearance for the club since signing from South Africa’s Sharks, named on the bench alongside his still not fully fit club captain Mike Coman.
Edinburgh Rugby team v Connact, Friday 12 September, BT Murrayfield, kick-off 7.35pm
15 Jack Cuthbert
14 Sam Beard
13 Phil Burleigh
12 Andries Strauss
11 Nick McLennan
10 Tom Heathcote
9 Sean Kennedy
1 Alasdair Dickinson
2 Ross Ford (Captain)
3 John Andress
4 Fraser McKenzie
5 Ollie Atkins
6 Tomas Leonardi
7 Hamish Watson
8 Cornell Du Preez
16 James Hilterbrand
17 Rory Sutherland
18 W P Nel
19 Anton Bresler
20 Mike Coman
21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
22 Grayson Hart
23 Joaquin Dominguez