THE return of Scotland internationals Greig Laidlaw and Matt Scott to the Edinburgh squad is timely as the capital side head south to face a Cardiff outfit in the RaboDirect PRO12 brimming with British and Irish Lions talent.
Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Sam Warburton and Gethin Jenkins start together for the first time this season as the Blues bid to uncover only a second win in their opening five games. Edinburgh are in the same struggling position in the table, but in a wholly different one off it according to new coach Alan Solomons, who reiterated yesterday that his plans to transform his squad into a title contender remained a long-term process.
He spoke at length about the kind of strength and conditioning training he and his South African assistant Omar Mouneimne had brought in, responding to research suggesting that the Edinburgh squad were some way off the level of fitness required to compete with the leading Celtic sides week in week out. Having watched it, I can testify that the demands on the players are quite extreme.
That is common for pre-season and it would have started in June had Solomons and Mouneimne been in place then, but as they only arrived in August it started then instead and is continuing, on top of the implementation of a new defensive structure, attacking philosophy and kicking game – all areas in which he said his players’ skills were lacking, but Solomons also believes this squad have genuine talent and is keen to expose it, currently by challenging his players to prove that they have what it takes to be part of a new era at Edinburgh.
“It is not easy for the players all the new things they have to take on board when they are in the middle of playing,” he said, “but we are looking for the side to improve week on week. After nine competitive games, by the end of October, I will be in a much better position to assess the squad.
“We are playing a team from the strongest nation in Britain right now with all their guys coming back, so I know it will be tough, but that is part of the challenge and it is stimulating and exciting for the players. Playing against the best in a strong competition is good for a players’ development.
“It is also important to the side that Greig is back. He is an experienced player in terms of his leadership and also through his captaincy of Scotland He has a lot of Test matches under his belt, which makes him valuable to the team at this point.
“I also have to be fair to Greig, as he has played no competitive matches this season. I am not expecting miracles but, in saying that, he will make a big difference.”
Greig Tonks (hamstring) and Grant Gilchrist (hip) are out and Argentine back-row Tomas Leonardi makes his debut, while Solomons has extended the trial period of Argentine centre Joaquin Dominguez – who makes his first start – to the end of the year, but Michael Tait has been called back by Newcastle from a loan period in the capital. So three scrum-halves feature in the Edinburgh squad this weekend with Sean Kennedy and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who has played stand-off, wing and full-back in his fledgling career to date, on the bench.
Cardiff hand a first appearance to loosehead prop Gethin Jenkins making his return from Toulon in the summer.