EDINBURGH coach Michael Bradley has taken the opportunity afforded by a season with lost impetus to introduce more young players to RaboDirect PRO12 action.
After a frustrating night at Murrayfield last week, where Bradley watched his side make all the running but fail to get over the line in a 17-16 loss to Cardiff, the coach is hopeful that a promising core of young Scottish talent can spark the side against a shadow Ospreys in Swansea tonight (kick-off 8pm).
The 21-year-old flanker Hamish Watson makes his first start for Edinburgh, after seven appearances as a replacement, and 20-year-old stand-off Harry Leonard returns to the side after a decent display off the bench last week. They are two of nine players in the squad aged 23 or under with Dougie Fife (22), Stuart McInally (22) and Greig Tonks (23) retaining their places in the side and prop Alex Allan (20), lock Rob McAlpine (21), Piers Francis (22) and Tom Brown (22) on the bench.
Bradley admitted that injuries and international call-ups have meant his squad is stretched but, in his last few games with the club, he is keen to leave a legacy for the next coach.
“A number of PRO12 clubs are tested to the limit at this time of the season,” he acknowledged, “both with the attritional nature of the game in terms of injuries and with players selected to represent their country.
“But Edinburgh Rugby has proven to be a fantastic breeding ground for talented young players, many of whom will represent Scotland this weekend, and the team picked to play Ospreys will showcase another group of gifted young players coming through who, with time and experience, will grow into hardened, quality individuals capable of delivering winning performances for this club.”
Even with significant budget cuts in Wales, the reigning champions are still among the strongest squads and they have to be. The squad is missing 15 players to international duty with Wales senior and under-20 squads this weekend.
Joe Bearman and Ross Jones are suspended and, like Edinburgh, they have another eight players out injured, including Welsh caps Duncan Jones, Ian Gough and Andrew Bishop, and South African winger Hanno Dirksen.
That underlines the nature of professional rugby these days and Bradley is hopeful his young guns, with a core of experience – Netani Talei makes his 50th appearance for the club – can bounce back from the Cardiff defeat and take advantage with a win that could make a seventh-placed finish a realistic target.