There was no surprise yesterday when Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons rung the changes for tonight’s second part of their European Challenge Cup double header with London Irish at BT Murrayfield.
Following last weekend’s chastening 38-6 defeat at the Madejski Stadium, which was by some distance their worst loss of the season, Edinburgh know that their hopes of progressing out of Pool 5 hinge on beating the Aviva Premiership side this evening.
His side made it all the way to the final of the competition last season but, for Solomons, it is more about seeing a response to what was a dreadfully dispiriting day at the office six days ago than thinking too much about chances of qualifying for the knockout phase.
“For me it’s about our performance. We’ve got to put right what happened last week,” said the coach yesterday.
He has made ten changes, two of them positional, from the starting XV which went on to leak six tries in Reading.
Two thirds of his international row are restored, though Al Dickinson is unable to join Ross Ford and WP Nel due to a calf injury and young prop Rory Sutherland gets another chance.
Scotland duo John Hardie and Matt Scott come back in at openside and centre respectively, while the first choice half-back pairing of Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Phil Burleigh is restored.
With Will Helu suffering a family bereavement and returning to New Zealand, Michael Allen keeps his place at outside centre alongside Scott, with Damien Hoyland coming back in on the right wing and Tom Brown switching to the left.
Solomons said: “The players who were involved last week have a chance to put it right. There’s not a lot of them but you’ve got both locks, Cornell, Rory Sutherland and a few in the backs.
“We work as a group and in it together and they need and want to take that responsibility to put it right.”
The South African was asked if he regretted naming such an unfamiliar team last weekend but argued: “We didn’t have much choice. Our front row was completely shot and, in fact, Dicko [Al Dickinson] isn’t playing this week because he has a calf injury. They’re also national players and have to be looked after.
“John Hardie was also in the same boat. Matt Scott’s neck was bothering him, Phil Burleigh had a calf injury and Mike Coman had taken a knock.”
Edinburgh are feeling the strain in the back-five of the scrum, with only two recognised locks currently fit. After being spoiled for choice when it comes to loose forwards at the start of the season, injuries to Roddy Grant (knee), Nasi Manu (neck), Hamish Watson (knee) and the departure of David Denton to Bath, has forced Solomons to bring youngster Magnus Bradbury back from theScotland sevens squad, and he will be on the bench along with fellow Scotland Under-20 back-rower Jamie Ritchie.
Anton Bresler carries a lot of responsibility in the engine room, but the Namibia-born former Sharks lock is unfazed by the extra workload.
“It’s actually quite good, it gets me going,” said the 27-year-old. “For me personally I need to play to get better and comfortable. I kind of enjoy it to constantly be playing. The body does take a bit of a knock week in, week out when the games are really tough. It takes it out of you so you just need to take your recovery seriously, eat the right foods.
“That’s why you play rugby, you want to get out there and enjoy it and look forward to the games. I actually haven’t thought: ‘Oh man, I’ve been playing so much, I need a rest’. I’m sure after a while I’ll feel it physically but at the moment I feel in a good state.
“The coaches look after you and make sure you are well recovered for the games.”
Bresler is one of those who was involved last week keen to make amends and added: “We were obviously hurting. But we’ve got this mindset that after losing you take what you have to from that game and leave it in the past, look forward and move on. You don’t want to keep negativity in your mind. Individually we weren’t in the right mindset last week and that’s not a difficult thing to fix. It’s your own job, not the coaches’ job, to get yourself in the right frame of mind.”
Scotland flanker Blair Cowan returns to the London Irish starting line-up and their coach Tom Coventry said: “We know it is going to be tough going up to Murrayfield but we also know how big the win would be in terms of trying to qualify from the group.”