Rugby: Edinburgh fringe men must step up for Ospreys’ visit

IF EDINBURGH were making heavy weather of climbing the RaboDirect PRO12 prior to the RBS Six Nations they would seem to face a battle now with nine of their first-line players missing.

But that perhaps pales against the test facing their opposition at Murrayfield tonight, the Ospreys, who currently sit second in the table with their hosts ninth without a staggering 19 players due to international duty. Wales, Ireland and Scotland have all selected Welsh players at senior or under-20 levels, which to why they have been so keen to hold on to Steve Shingler.

They are also missing six players to injury, including Scotland winger Nikki Walker and so Sam Lewis makes his PRO12 debut, Joe Rees makes his first league start and Will Taylor will make his league debut if he comes off the bench.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It is invariably a strange period in the league programme with all sides affected to different degrees by international call-ups. Glasgow were last night missing eight players to the Scotland squad in Wales this weekend, while the likes of Connacht and the Dragons – next up for Edinburgh away from home – have very few players unavailable.

Michael Bradley, the Edinburgh coach, was used to helping Connacht take advantage during Test windows, and he is equally enthusiastic about the challenge facing his new team in the coming weeks.

He said: “We’re not happy with our position in the league at the moment. We didn’t start well in the competition and so we need to play catch-up, but this is an opportunity for us and if we our business correctly we’ll have a good day [against the Ospreys] and we’ll build from there.

“Everybody is missing players and this period presents different challenges to coaches and players, but I actually enjoy these games because you get to see other guys playing, guys who have been knocking on the door saying ‘why aren’t you picking me?’ who will get the opportunity in the next four weeks.

“We have four matches coming up now and we’ve said to the boys that we don’t want to fall off in our level of detail, building from the attention to detail at the breakdown, efficiency levels at first phase and execution of strike moves, and that’s the formula going forward for us for the four weeks.”

Bradley has returned to Roddy Grant as his captain, the openside flanker having been a shade unlucky to lose out in the race for the Scotland jersey to Ross Rennie and John Barclay at the top level and now Chris Fusaro with the ‘A’ team. Grant has been in the top three best-performing forwards in this season’s Heineken Cup and will be crucial to Edinburgh’s ability to play with momentum tonight. Matt Scott and Jim Thompson face late fitness tests with Dougie Fife and Sep Visser on stand-by.

The Ospreys’ strength in depth remains the stuff of envy and their forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys is keen to see the second-string players maintain the push for the top four play-off spots.

“Edinburgh is always a tough place to go,” he said. “They are a good team who like to play attacking rugby and it’s never easy against them. We targeted a home semi-final in this competition and with nine games to go we’re in second place, so we are up there, with our destiny in our hands. It’s an exciting challenge for these boys now. These were the ones who had such a great start to the season with six from six, and it’s this group that can control where we finish.”