Blair Kinghorn brimming with confidence ahead of what will be an emotional evening for Edinburgh Rugby
The stand-off’s inclusion is one of 12 changes made by Mike Blair in the aftermath of last week’s disappointing defeat by Benetton in Italy. The head coach had to rest the bulk of his internationals for the trip to Treviso after the recent autumn Test series but most of the big guns are back for the Munster match at the DAM Heath Stadium. Emiliano Boffelli is absent, given another week off after his exertions with Argentina, and so too is Hamish Watson who is recovering from a head injury, but Edinburgh have selected a strong team to face visitors who have yet to win away this season but did take a notable home scalp last month when they beat the touring South Africans in Cork.
Kinghorn was picked at 10 for Scotland’s autumn opener against Australia, his fifth start in a row for the national side, but found himself relegated to the bench for subsequent matches against Fiji, New Zealand and Argentina as first Adam Hastings and then Russell were preferred. Blair said the Edinburgh man was undamaged by the experience and looking forward to returning to club duties.
“I met him during the week off – he was in great spirits,” said Blair. “He was frustrated he didn’t get more game time, but he was very confident in himself. He was really keen to get on the pitch from the bench. Blair is in a good state at the moment and he’s really keen to pull on our jersey again.”
Edinburgh playing at home at full tilt with Kinghorn pulling the strings can be an intoxicating blend and Friday’s match will have extra resonance as it is the first since the passing of Doddie Weir. Those attending have been urged to wear tartan to celebrate the life of the former Scotland forward and a moment’s applause will be held in his memory.
The work Weir did with his foundation to raise awareness of motor neuron disease and help fellow sufferers generated a huge amount of goodwill to an already popular figure and Blair is in no doubt that the Edinburgh players and crowd will respond accordingly. “I think Doddie is one of the most recognisable figures in Scottish rugby and you could argue in world rugby at the moment because of the impact he has had with his charity and the money he has raised,” said the coach. “There is a good understanding of what he was like, what he was about. He is a bit of an icon for how we believe the game should be.”
Both sides will lay down No 5 jerseys before the match and Edinburgh will warm up wearing Doddie tartan snoods. Blair will leave it up to his players as to how they use the emotion of the occasion but he knows his primary aim as coach is to win the match.
“Different players will prepare in different ways,” he said. “Some people will channel that emotion through Doddie, some will channel the emotion through pulling on the jersey, some to the supporters, their families, whatever. We encourage the guys to have a purpose in what they are doing, to find that purpose and use it as motivation for the game.”
Munster beat Edinburgh 34-20 in the URC last season, with Simon Zebo scoring a hat-trick at Thomond Park. The Ireland winger returns to the side after missing last week’s home win over Connacht, with Shane Daly moving to full-back to accommodate him. Blair is wary of Zebo and feels Munster are starting to click into gear as they get adapt to the methods of head coach Graham Rowntree who was promoted in the summer.
“He is obviously a really smart footballer with a lot of experience,” Blair said of Zebo. “He will bring confidence to that backline as well. He is a top-quality player. They’ve got some injuries, but this is a really strong team that they’re putting on the field. I think Rowntree was quoted as saying they’ve played 48 different players this season; we’ve played 43. It’s what you have to do when you’re playing back-to-back games like we are.
“There’s real strength in their team – there are three British & Irish Lions, there are international players all over the place – so they’re going to be really strong. They’ve had a couple of good results. That South Africa ‘A’ game was really important for them to get some momentum. They’re improving week on week. When you get new coaches in with very different ideas to what was previously there, things take a little bit of time, but we can see that they are starting to click and they’re going to be a dominant force again.”
Edinburgh have their own pretensions in that direction and the return of Darcy Graham, Duhan van der Merwe, Mark Bennett and Kinghorn in the back division, and Pierre Schoeman, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie and Viliame Mata in the pack should have a galvanising effect after the loss to Benetton.
Wes Goosen moves from wing to full-back to cover the injured Henry Immelman and there is likely to be a debut from the bench for Tom Cruse, the hooker signed from Wasps. Edinburgh will miss Boffelli and Watson, and their injured list also includes three hookers – Stuart McInally, Dave Cherry and Adam McBurney – as well as Sam Skinner, Cammy Hutchison and Immelman, but this is a strong home side which boasts 10 full Scotland internationals and Mata. Edinburgh are expecting their biggest home crowd of the season and it is likely to be an emotional evening but this is the sort of game Blair’s side need to win if they are continue to build on last season.
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