Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons believes he has the strength in depth needed to compete on two fronts.
The South African has taken the opportunity to rest some players for tonight’s Challenge Cup Pool 5 match against Agen in France and hopes that, injuries permitting, he will continue to have that luxury as the club pursue their goals in both the Guinness Pro12 and Europe.
Last season Edinburgh made it all the way to the Challenge Cup final but lost it to Gloucester and dropped off in the league to finish outside the top-six and miss out on the elite European competition.
With Agen using the European tournament as a chance to develop young players, Solomons too has rung the changes for tonight’s encounter in Aquitaine but is still determined to see his side make it two out of two after defeating Grenoble 28-10 in last week’s opener at BT Murrayfield.
“We’re better equipped this season,” said Solomons. “We’ve been able to do rotations, which is really good. We’re travelling a little light at lock. Ben Toolis and Grant Gilchrist out just leaves us a little bit light in that position. But, at the moment, it’s not too bad, though I’d say we need to be relatively injury free to be able to hold our strength in depth. In the backs we have key players, and Phil Burleigh is one of them, and he’s sorely missed. But yes, I think we are in a much stronger position than we were last year.”
Solomons makes five changes, three in the backs and two in the pack, from last week’s match.
Tom Brown switches from left to right wing as Tongan international Otulea Katoa, who has been playing for Boroughmuir, makes his first start for Edinburgh, in the No 11 jersey, and scrum-half Sean Kennedy moves up from the bench. Damien Hoyland, who has played every game this season, is rested along with international scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.
Lock Fraser McKenzie returns from a two-week suspension to partner Anton Bresler in the second row, with John Hardie and last Friday’s man of the match, Cornell Du Preez, remaining at openside and No 8 respectively.
Back row Nasi Manu moves up from the bench to start at blindside flanker.
Scotland under-20 captain and back row Jamie Ritchie could make his first professional competitive appearance in European competition off the bench. The 19-year-old made his Edinburgh debut last season in the away Guinness Pro12 league fixture against Leinster at the RDS.
Skipper Mike Coman has been left at home to nurse a sore neck, with hooker Ross Ford assuming the captaincy. Openside Hamish Watson is also rested.
“Phil Burleigh trained on Monday but the calf was still worrying him,” said Solomons. “He is a key player for us, there’s no doubt about, but we cannot risk him. If it’s not right, I’d rather leave him another week.
“That affords Dougie Fife another opportunity to get game time [at full-back]. And I think it’s good for Blair Kinghorn to be travelling with us again. That is a positive.
“Otulea Katoa has been playing regularly for Boroughmuir, so he’s now got an opportunity. At Edinburgh he is now more relaxed in his environment – and I think we need to see him.
“Damien Hoyland has played every single game but has tweaked his quad, so it’s an
ideal time for a rotation there. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne has played five games and he needs to be rested.”
Solomons added: “John Hardie I think needs to play back-to-back games, to get a run of games and get really bedded in, although he did incredibly well last week.
“That also gives us the opportunity to bring Jamie on to the bench and get some game time. It’s a good opportunity to have a look at him and track his progress.
“He can cover all three back-row positions, and he’s a good lineout forward. I think he’s ready to go. He got a game for Heriot’s at the weekend, so he’s got a game under his belt and I think he’s itching to go.”
Agen are currently propping up the Top 14 table and have named a young side for tonight’s clash with league survival clearly a greater priority than Europe.
However, Solomons is still expecting a testing contest and said: “French sides at home are very different to French sides away from home. I think we’re in for a tough game.”
Although Solomons has clearly prioritised a top-six Pro12
finish this season the happy memories of last season’s historic European run remain fresh and the Challenge Cup remains a competition he wants to do well in.
“It’s just a little bit of a change in focus, and that in itself is good,” he said. “You’re playing opposition that you don’t normally play. That change is always welcome and good for the team.”
Edinburgh team (v Agen, tomorrow, Stade Armandie, kick-off 6.30pm GMT)
15 Dougie Fife
14 Tom Brown
13 Will Helu
12 Matt Scott
11 Otulea Katoa
10 Greig Tonks
9 Sean Kennedy
1 Alasdair Dickinson
2 Ross Ford (capt)
3 WP Nel
4 Anton Bresler
5 Fraser McKenzie
6 Nasi Manu
7 John Hardie
8 Cornell Du Preez
16 Neil Cochrane
17 Rory Sutherland
18 Simon Berghan
19 Alex Toolis
20 Jamie Ritchie
21 Nathan Fowles
22 Blair Kinghorn
23 Chris Dean