Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons has placed his faith in one of the Scottish game’s young talents as he demands a performance from his side at Murrayfield tonight.
The team went down 44-10 at the Ospreys last week and, preparing to welcome the Scarlets to Edinburgh, have skipper Greig Laidlaw still to be passed fully fit after a knee injury. But the new South African coach has handed the No 9 jersey to Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, the 20-year-old who spent much of the summer on a John Macphail Scholarship in New Zealand, in an effort to inspire the youngster to maintain good early form and lift the competition with Sean Kennedy, who, at 22, is currently ahead of him in the scrum-half stakes.
Solomons had his first sight of Hidalgo-Clyne on the club’s pre-season camp at Loughborough University and was impressed then. “We’re quite fortunate in that, despite losing a key international player, we have two very talented young Scottish scrum-halves in Sam and Sean, who are pushing each other very hard for the chance to start each week,” he said.
“Sam now deservedly gets this opportunity after five appearances off the bench. They’re both still very young, but are in excellent condition and show a lot of promise, which is great news for the club.”
Hidalgo-Clyne, who has Scottish-Spanish heritage and attended Merchiston Castle School, was delighted to win the starting spot, and he is one of four personnel changes to the backline, with the former All Black centre Ben Atiga finally coming back into the side, and hoping to kick-start a career in Scotland stalled by injury.
He replaces Dougie Fife, who is out of contention after suffering a head knock, Lee Jones is back for injured wing Tim Visser, who also had a head knock, and young Scotland international Jack Cuthbert has been handed an opportunity to show what he can do after his move north from Bath in place of Test wing Nikki Walker.
Ross Ford and Willem Nel return to bolster the front row, but elsewhere the pack remains the same as in Swansea, with Argentine trialist Joaquin Dominguez poised for his debut after being named on the bench.
The home side has prevailed in Edinburgh’s last five games, but they have beaten Scarlets just once in their last six fixtures, a 26-23 win at Murrayfield in March 2012, with the Welsh side edging the last meeting in Edinburgh 29-28 last October. But Edinburgh have lost just once at home since February, a 32-24 defeat to Connacht in April, in what was an improved second half to last term and are seeking to build on their win over the Dragons in their opening home match this term.
John Barclay makes his first appearance in Scotland in a Scarlets jersey, after making the move south from Glasgow in the summer, and the Scarlets’ British and Irish Lions centre Jon Davies captains his region for the first time.
Scarlets coach Simon Easterby said: “John Barclay has been a good voice around the group and shown his experience this week. It’s going to be a big few weeks for him against his international colleagues fighting for positions in the national side. He’ll want to play some good rugby and hit some form in a run of game-time for us over the next three or four weeks.
“We are expecting Edinburgh to be very competitive back at home. They have key individuals in their team that we’ll have to manage and will be well organised under an experienced coach in Alan Solomons.
“We started slowly last Friday, and the Dragons made the most of the Rodney Parade factor; our contact area was below par and it’s such a huge area in the game and has been a big focus for us. We need to get that right and so it doesn’t affect the way we play.
“It’s a nice wide pitch at Murrayfield, so hopefully that will allow us to play with a bit of width. Both sides are looking to get some form, so hopefully it will be an entertaining fixture and we’ll be working hard to come back with the right result this time.”
Edinburgh may worry less about the size of the pitch, and more simply about claiming another victory as Solomons strives to energise a side working overtime to grasp a new game-plan and new ideas. He retains belief that his squad have the ability to achieve that, but is calling for them to learn quickly from last week’s reverse and produce a performance that wins the respect of the Murrayfield faithful.
“At the weekend we just made far too many mistakes,” he added. “We struggled a bit at scrum-time and we struggled with the maul, but they [Ospreys] are a good side and if you make errors like we made you will be punished.
“I made it clear at the start of the season that we’re out to earn respect by dint of our performances, and we did not perform well at the weekend. We have to be honest with ourselves and we have to set that right this weekend.”
• Edinburgh Rugby team to play Scarlets this Friday (27 September) in round four of the RaboDirect PRO12 (kick-off 7.45pm)
15 Greig Tonks
14 Lee Jones
13 Nick De Luca
12 Ben Atiga
11 Jack Cuthbert
10 Harry Leonard
9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
1 Alasdair Dickinson
2 Ross Ford [captain]
3 Willem Nel
4 Grant Gilchrist
5 Izak van der Westhuizen
6 Dimitri Basilaia
7 Roddy Grant
8 David Denton
16 James Hilterbrand
17 Wicus Blaauw
18 Geoff Cross
19 Sean Cox
20 Hamish Watson
21 Sean Kennedy
22 Joaquin Dominguez
23 Michael Tait