Roddy Grant named captain of Edinburgh as Blair drops to the bench

BOTSWANA-BORN flanker Roddy Grant will captain Edinburgh for their vital Magners League match against Ulster on Sunday, replacing Mike Blair, who drops to the bench.

The selection is a significant vote of confidence in Grant by Edinburgh head coach Rob Moffat for the penultimate game of the regular season, which they need to win to get back into the play-off places.

After losing their last two games, Edinburgh need new impetus if their season is not to fizzle out, and Moffat believes they will find that impetus in the 23-year-old forward. "Roddy has been one of our most consistent players this season," the coach said yesterday.

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"He's had a very good season, and he epitomises what you're looking for in leading the team.

He sets high standards for himself and I believe he will demand that of others. As a coach you are always looking for leaders, people who are willing to accept responsibility, and Roddy has those characteristics in droves."

In other changes from the team which lost to Newport Gwent Dragons, Greig Laidlaw takes over at scrum-half from Blair, Nick de Luca returns from injury to start at outside centre, and Ben Cairns moves from centre to full-back in place of Jim Thompson, who is on the bench. Two players who started the game against the Dragons, flanker Ross Rennie and winger Simon Webster, are unavailable because of injury.

With just this home game and a trip to league leaders Leinster remaining, Edinburgh can not afford another loss if they are to break into the play-off places. They are currently fifth, just two points behind Glasgow, but also only two ahead of the Dragons.

Having only joined Edinburgh last summer, Grant has significantly less experience than many team-mates, but yesterday he sounded distinctly undaunted by the burden of responsibility. "It's great to be asked," he said. "It (the captaincy] is obviously new at this level, but it's something I really enjoy.

"I can't wait. I'm really looking forward to it. There are a lot of guys, a lot of caps. It's great to get the call and when Moff asked me I was absolutely delighted."

While willing to assume a leadership role, Grant does not expect he will need to psych his team-mates up too much, such is their keenness to make amends for their disappointing showing last week. "We all realised that we were very poor last week and against Connacht as well. We're all really eager to get going this weekend and change things. We know what's at stake here.

"I suppose my job is pretty easy – everyone is really up for it and good to go, so there's not much motivation needed from my side. Hopefully, I'll lead by example. I'm proud to have been asked to lead the team, but Sunday is about the entire Edinburgh squad setting out our stall and putting in a performance that means we can still strive for that play-off place. We've faced Ulster on three occasions this season so far, as they were in our pool in the Heineken Cup, and they've all been close-fought matches. I believe it will be along similar lines this weekend."

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While Grant looks like being a key member of the Edinburgh pack next season, other, more established names such as Ali Hogg and David Callam face an uncertain future. Moffat refused to comment when asked if those two back-row forwards would be offered new contracts.

Callam is on the bench, but Hogg, who continued his comeback from injury by turning out for Watsonians last weekend, has been judged to be lacking match fitness and is not in the squad. The coach also declined to say when he hoped to have his squad finalised for next season.

Ulster will select their matchday squad, to be announced at noon, from a squad of 26 named yesterday. It includes internationals Rory Best and Paddy Wallace, both of whom are returning from injury.

Ulster: Backs from: J Smith, P Marshall, S Danielli, D Cave, I Whitten, N Spence, I Humphreys, N O'Connor, I Boss, W Faloon, A Trimble, P Wallace. Forwards from: R Best, B Young, BJ Botha, N McComb, A Kyriacou, E O'Donoghue, D Tuohy, R Caldwell, C Henry, T Court, S Ferris, R Diack, TJ Anderson, D Pollock.