Edinburgh’s trying start to the season, which has seen them lose a head coach and four Guinness Pro12 games out of five, has been tested further with an injury crisis at tighthead prop.
WP Nel, the stalwart internationalist, injured his neck in training earlier this week and, with Kevin Bryce already on the wounded list, the club have been forced to scramble young Ewan McQuillin from London Scottish. The 24-year-old goes straight into the team to face Treviso at BT Murrayfield this evening.
“Behind the scenes that has taken a bit of organising between the SRU and London Scottish,” said acting head coach Duncan Hodge, who is taking charge of his second game following the departure of Alan Solomons.
“WP got injured on Monday. We don’t know yet but it is hopefully not too serious. At the minute he [McQuillin] is just up for this weekend and we’ll take it from there.”
With Nick Beavon, the 29-year-old signed from Melrose in the summer, felt to be not quite ready for the rigours of tighthead at Pro12 level, he has travelled south to fill in at London Scottish.
Former Edinburgh academy player McQuillin has been in London as part of the SRU’s partnership with the Exiles club. Current academy prop Murray McCallum will cover tighthead on the bench despite having played most of his rugby at loosehead.
“I’ve seen a fair bit of Murray in the last few years playing for the under-20s and Heriot’s, and it’s great for him to get some exposure,” said Hodge of the 20-year-old who will make his pro debut if he comes off the bench. “He’s played a lot of his rugby at loosehead, but we are looking for him to play more and more at tighthead, so that will be good for him to be exposed to that this weekend and hopefully in the next couple of weeks as well.”
Treviso have had an identical start to Edinburgh, winning just one from five, but will bring the traditional Italian relish for scrum time, which will test the home side’s depleted front-row resources.
Hodge makes a total of five changes from the side that lost to Connacht in Galway last weekend. Hamish Watson is given the nod ahead of John Hardie at openside, while Blair Kinghorn will make his first start of the season at full-back and wing Tom Brown returns from a groin injury.
Nasi Manu also returns at No 8 to feature for the first time since the opening weekend at Cardiff.
Loosehead prop Rory Sutherland will make his 50th appearance for the club and pack down in an all-Borders front row with Ross Ford and his former Gala team-mate McQuillin.
The 22-year-old from Hawick revealed it had been a challenging week for the players and that there was sadness about Solomons’ exit after three years with the club.
“I suppose there is a sense that we feel we let him down a little bit,” said Sutherland. “It was tough for everybody. Something had to be done. I’m not saying it had to be to let him go. That was pretty harsh on him.
“He’s done a lot for the club and a lot for my career. I’ve got a lot of respect for Solly. He gave me my chance in professional rugby. It’s been a tough couple of weeks.
“Two and a half years ago I was standing in a welding shop. I got the phone call from Alan asking me if I wanted to come up for a trial and after a couple of weeks I got a contract. So, yeah, he gave me my chance.
“It was a bit of a shock to everyone but something had to change. I’m not sure if that was what needed to happen but it has. He briefly told us that that was the decision that had been made and that he respected the decision. We have to respect his decision and that the people have decided that it was time for him to go. But it has been tough.”
Edinburgh’s back row has given Hodge and his coaching staff as many selection headaches as the front three but for completely different reasons – an embarassment of riches which sees Hardie on the bench and no place for Cornell du Preez or Jamie Ritchie.
Hodge said: “John and Hamish have both played exceptionally well. They have been two of our best players this season. So that’s a really hard situation for them.
“It’s also good to have Nasi back at No 8. He’s not played since Scarlets and not much at all last season so it will be good to see him play again.
“It’s one of those things. We’re talking about some injury issues in other positions but we’re also looking at having six or seven back-rowers who are all fit and very good players. They can’t all play. It’s a competitive spot.”
Getting some confidence back after such a barren run is key and a home match against the Italian strugglers has surely come at the ideal time.
“Certainly winning on Friday would give the boys a huge boost following the week we’ve had,” added Hodge.
“Most of our issues this year have been consistency, really. There’s been flashes of really good stuff.
“We had a really good defensive performance against Scarlets, we’ve scored good tries, we’ve scrummaged well in bits, our lineout has functioned in bits, but we just haven’t put together a package that is up to this standard, and I think we all accept that.
“Tomorrow night is going to be a big challenge but its one we are looking forward to it, and we’re at home so we need to play well and start performing.”