EDINBURGH head coach Alan Solomons will field young scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne on the wing in a bid to salvage a place at Europe’s top table.
The capital side need to beat the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade tonight, to keep alive their slim hopes of qualifying for next season’s replacement for the Heineken Cup.
It is expected that Edinburgh will need to finish in the top seven of the RaboDirect Pro12 to qualify for the proposed new elite European competition. They are currently ninth with six games remaining.
The stats suggest Edinburgh will go into tonight’s match as underdogs, having not won in Wales for almost five years or at Newport since 2006.
In addition, Solomons has not tasted victory on the road since taking the reins at the start of the season.
On the decision to switch Hidalgo-Clyne to the wing, he said: “We have two other very good No 9s in the squad – Grayson Hart and Sean Kennedy. Sam had been out of action with a shoulder problem and now that he is back, I want to involve him.
“He is really buzzing and we saw a cameo against Treviso which underlined that he is a talented footballer, though I do still see him as a scrum-half for the future.
“Up to the age of 18, he played most of his rugby at full-back and then moved to No 9. He is quick, has great evasive skills, is tough and brave.”
Solomons insisted he had not given up the quest to qualify for Europe’s premier tournament. “We can still finish sixth, so there is no point in not persisting while that chance exists but it will be tough going to Newport,” he said.
“I was astonished to hear that we had not won away since I came here, but in the last three matches on the road we have got close enough to earn losing bonus points.
“We are on the cusp of taking the step that turns these close matches into wins.”
Edinburgh and the Dragons are locked on 30 points in the Pro12 table, in ninth and eighth slots respectively, and Solomons added: “We need to make sure that, when we create scoring opportunities, we finish them. We need to deliver a top-level performance and, in any big game, that means also give away very little.”
Jack Cuthbert moves to his favoured full-back role at the expense of Carl Bezuidenhout, who drops to the bench. That change has created the vacancy for Hidalgo-Clyne. In the pack, Mike Coman returns to captain the team from the blind side of the back row, so Cornell Du Preez starts on the open side and Roddy Grant moves to the bench, where he is joined by Simon Berghan, who replaces the injured Ewan McQuillin.
Solomons added: “I think Mike has really good leadership qualities. He adds great value to the team in that respect. That said, this is as much a rotation of the loose forwards, as Roddy Grant has had an outstanding season for us.”
Wales wing Hallam Amos returns to the Dragons line-up after a two-month lay-off with ankle damage, while scrum-half Richie Rees will be in the mood to make things hard for his former club-mates.
EDINBURGH TEAM v Dragons at Rodney Parade tomorrow, kick-off 6.30pm
TV: live on BBC Alba
15 J Cuthbert, 14 S Hidalgo-Clyne, 13 M Scott, 12 A Strauss, 11 T Brown, 10 H Leonard, 9 G Hart, 1 A Dickinson, 2 R Ford, 3 W Nel, 4 G Gilchrist, 5 I van der Westhuizen, 6 M Coman (capt), 7 C Du Preez, 8 D Denton
Subs: J Hilterbrand, W Blaauw, S Berghan, O Atkins, R Grant, S Kennedy, C Bezuidenhout, S Beard.
Dragons: D Evans; T Prydie, P Leach, J Dixon, H Amos; J Tovey, R Rees; P Price, E Dee, D Bell, A Coombs (capt), M Screech, L Evans, N Cudd, T Faletau. Subs: S Parry, O Evans, B Douglas, C Hill, J Groves, W Evans, R Wardle, W Harries.