EDINBURGH have left out a handful of internationalists for the Heineken Cup return at Gloucester tomorrow, but welcome back hooker Ross Ford as coach Alan Solomons seeks a more dynamic performance.
The quartet to drop out are Greig Laidlaw, Nick de Luca, David Denton and Alasdair Dickinson, while flanker Ross Rennie is also rested in line with his phased return from a long-term injury. Solomons dismissed the suggestion that they had been dropped, agreeing that it was not ideal to be going to Gloucester without that group on top of injured Test men Matt Scott and Tim Visser, but he admitted that he had seen signs of fatigue in last week’s “flat” performance against the Aviva Premiership side at Murrayfield and had no choice but to freshen the side up for the trip to Kingsholm, the first of four games in 17 days.
“Certainly we were flat in the first half against Gloucester,” Solomons stated. “We were much better in the second half, and had our opportunities, but still, unfortunately, we did not take them.
“I feel we are at a stage where we need to freshen up. If we look at Greig, Nick and Dents, those guys all played every one of the autumn Tests, two against Australia and South Africa, [ranked] two and three in the world.
“They then came back and played Connacht and a Heineken Cup game. That is a lot of rugby and at Murrayfield, which is a heavy pitch at the moment. So not only do you have the mental thing of playing five big games back to back, particularly the Test matches, but there is also the physical fatigue factor, so they are at the point where you can see that physically they need a break.
“It is a massive chunk out of a team, there is no doubt about that. If you add Matt Scott and Tim Visser to that, and Ross Rennie, who is just coming back to rugby after a long break and has had to deal with a recent bereavement [his mother died], and has done exceptionally well, you’re looking at five guys who could be in the starting 15 for the country.
“So, not to have them playing, of course, is a loss but it presents opportunities to others.
“We have to look at it week by week and it is the right decision for the players and the team. We have got a situation where, yes it is tough and we will miss these players, but you have to to look at it that players are fatiguing and Nick’s shoulders are also a problem, a physical injury concern, and Greig and Dents have been carrying niggles as well.”
Ford is one of those coming into the side, along with new faces Grayson Hart, Joaquin Dominguez, Tomas Leonardi and Wicus Blaauw, signed just for this kind of depth protection, all of whom are eager to show that they have the ability to play a key role in Edinburgh’s future.
British and Irish Lions hooker Ford was forced off the autumn Test with Australia due to a calf injury and just failed to pass a fitness test on the eve of Sunday’s game. He admitted that his frustration was only heightened watching Edinburgh’s display, but backed Solomons’ team changes as necessary to ensure the team can find consistency through the next month.
“It was very frustrating at the weekend,” said Ford. “The tries we conceded were soft and we didn’t give ourselves a chance. In the second half we played better and put them under pressure but didn’t apply ourselves fully and those early tries cost us.
“But we have the belief that, if we do better and give a good account of ourselves this week, the result will follow. A lot of it was down to mental lapses last week. We have been improving over a few weeks and then we switch off, and we get cut [open for tries], so we’ve spoken about how we have to be focused for 80 minutes.
“The changes will be good because it’s like anything – if you work very hard at something you’re going to be fatigued. This is a hard game we play and you’re never really in the perfect physical spot.
“Anybody could come in and play with a lot of passion, but it takes more than that week in week out at this level. We work hard and put ourselves in tough positions and it takes it out of you, but, at this level, the key is being able to cope with that and have that switch to react when you are knackered, and still know exactly what to do, for the full 80 minutes. That’s what we need this week.”
Like Glasgow’s pool, Edinburgh’s is tight. If the Scots win tomorrow and Munster lose away to Perpignan the table would see Perpignan or Munster leading with Edinburgh tucked in just one, two or three points behind with home and away games left.
Gloucester’s director of rugby Nigel Davies is viewing an opportunity to lift his side from a struggling season, but expects a backlash from the Scots.
“They’ve already taken the scalp of Munster so they’re a very capable outfit,” he said, “and, from their reaction after the game on Sunday, it was clearly a game they expected to win.
“It was one of our most comfortable wins for a while, in all fairness, but they’re a very competent side, and they’ll use the disappointment of last weekend to come down here, put in a big performance and get a result back. We have to be very wary of that.”
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