TIM VISSER will make his first start for Edinburgh this afternoon since breaking his ankle playing against Treviso last October.
He is one of seven new faces head coach Alan Solomons has added to the side for their RaboDirect Pro12 clash against Zebre at the Stadio XXV Aprile as the South African tries to freshen things up after last Friday’s lacklustre home defeat to Cardiff Blues.
Having made a five-minute cameo appearance off the bench at the end of last week’s defeat to the Blues, this will be Visser’s 100th appearance for the club and he will be desperate to mark the occasion by adding to his remarkable haul of 58 tries in Edinburgh colours.
The 26-year-old, pictured below, has been the league’s top tryscorer in every one of his four seasons at the club and, although his extended lay-off means he is unlikely to make it five on the bounce this year, his return to action will come as a welcome boost to the capital outfit as they strive against the odds to claw their way back into contention to finish in the top six (which would qualify them for the inaugural European Champions Cup next season).
“Tim is a very good finisher and it’s excellent to have him in the side, though we shouldn’t expect too much from him as this is really his first proper outing,” said Solomons.
“We know this is going to be a tough fixture for us. They are a side not to be underestimated, and were probably a little bit unlucky to lose against the Scarlets in Wales last weekend. They will certainly be stronger at home and go into the match with a lot to play for, because whoever finishes higher between them and Treviso will go into the European Rugby Champions Cup. They will be well motivated and will present us with a massive challenge.”
In the pack, Solomons has opted to rest Cornell du Preez, who has been one of Edinburgh’s most consistent performers this season, but is now beginning to show signs of burnout after joining the club straight off the back of his first Super Rugby season with the Southern Kings, and has since played 17 of the last 18 games.
“I’m giving him a break. Cornell coped at Super Rugby level. I think he played 15 of the 16 games, but he has now played back-to-back seasons, so it’s been tough for him,” said Solomons. “I think, if you take his southern-hemisphere season and this season together, he has played in excess of 45 games so the bench is the appropriate place for him this time out.”
Roddy Grant takes over from Du Preez on the openside flank, while Scotland loosehead prop Alasdair Dickinson gives way to Wicus Blaauw in the front row.
Injury has dictated an overhaul of the second row with Grant Gilchrist and Izak van der Westhuizen both unavailable (due to an ankle problem and a head knock respectively), which opens the door for Australian imports Ollie Atkins and debutant Ben Toolis. The opportunity of a first appearance has also been offered to Atkins’ twin brother and fellow development player Alex, who is on the bench.
Solomons will be hoping his new-look half-back partnership of Sean Kennedy at scrum-half and Carl Bezuidenhout at stand-off will add some much-needed zip to Edinburgh’s play. With club captain Greig Laidlaw moving to Gloucester at the end of the season, Kennedy is one of three players (alongside Grayson Hart and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne) vying to make the Edinburgh No 9 jersey their own next year, and having not started a match since the last time Zebre provided the opposition at the start of November, the 22-year-old is understandably keen to state his case for more regular inclusion.
“Alan’s been honest with us. He’s said he’s going to look at all three of us and come the start of the season he may still not know who his number one is – but between now and then is when we’re going to have to put in the work,” said Kennedy.